Weird Behavior During the Pandemic Is Messing with AI Models

Original article was published on Communications of the ACM – Artificial Intelligence

By Technology Review
May 15, 2020
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boxes on conveyor belt

Credit: Getty Images

When Covid-19 hit, people started buying things online that they’d never bought before. The mainstays of Amazon’s top ten — phone cases, phone chargers, Lego — were knocked off the charts in just a few days. It took less than a week at the end of February for the top 10 Amazon search terms in multiple countries to fill up with products related to Covid-19.

The changes have also affected artificial intelligence, causing hiccups for the algorithms that run behind the scenes in inventory management, fraud detection, marketing, and more. Machine-learning models trained on normal human behavior are now finding that normal has changed, and some are no longer working as they should. 

How bad the situation is depends on whom you talk to. “Automation is in tailspin,” says Pactera Edge, an AI consultancy. Others say they are keeping a cautious eye on automated systems that are just about holding up, stepping in with a manual correction when needed.

What’s clear is that the pandemic has revealed how intertwined lives are with AI, exposing a delicate codependence in which changes to behavior change how AI works.

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