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Unlikely and unusual uses for AI

05 June 2024
Retail vendors like Tractor Supply and Dollar General are using generative AI to enhance service as well as refine supply chain logistics and inventory management. Source: WS Studio 1985/Adobe Stock

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer just the backbone of chatbots and recommendation engines. As 2024 progresses, AI is stretching its digital tendrils into less explored areas, transforming every industry it touches— from agriculture to creative arts. In fact, we are watching a new and fascinating interplay between automated systems and human experience.

When first encountered, AI used smart algorithms to deliver Amazon product recommendations and guide our journeys with personal assistants like Siri. As 2024 unfolds, AI has evolved into so much more with unexpected solutions that are projected to contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Starting with retail and customer service

Companies such as Tractor Supply and Dollar General, pioneers in AI utilization, are transitioning from backend analytics to frontline customer engagement. Tractor Supply, a company traditionally tethered to agricultural products, has heavily invested in generative AI to enhance service and streamline store human resources, sales and marketing activities. Recently, a quarter of the company’s 2,200 stores have received smart camera upgrades to monitor theft and let associates know if a customer needs assistance or a checkout line has grown long.

Similarly, Dollar General is harnessing AI to refine supply chain logistics and inventory management. By collaborating with AI technology provider Shelf Engine, Dollar General plans to implement automated AI ordering systems across 3,000 stores by the end of the fiscal year. This venture is ensuring product freshness and availability while reducing waste.

Venturing beyond the commercial sphere, AI's influence in retail replicates across a broader array of fields and applications.

Healthcare and personal use

AI is influencing healthcare beyond traditional diagnostics into more personalized applications. AI tools revolutionize surgical procedures and patient monitoring, enhancing precision and reducing recovery times.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, are developing Circlage, a cloud-based video analysis platform that optimizes surgical care. The system provides immediate, AI-generated feedback on surgical techniques by analyzing surgical video uploads. Aimed initially at enhancing cataract surgery outcomes, Circlage is using deep learning to assess and improve the precision of surgical procedures and potentially reduce the need for corrective treatments.

Recent developments in electroencephalogram (EEG) technologies have allowed the development of AI-driven devices that can remotely monitor changes in brain activity. Headsets and ear-EEG devices are being used to monitor brain activity and take images, to evaluate patients in natural settings.

AI-powered toothbrushes are optimizing the way oral hygiene is maintained. Oral-B’s iO Series AI toothbrush is equipped with specialized scrubbers and offers tailored cleaning by adapting to a wide range of brushing habits. The toothbrush analyzes thousands of lab-recorded brushing actions alongside individual brushing styles to deliver alerts about missed spots, incorrect brushing pressure or insufficient brushing duration through a user-friendly smartphone app.

X-ray and AI is being used by law enforcement to get a detailed view of what locations may look like on the inside when police must issue a warrant or raid a house. Source: AlphaStock/ Adobe Stock X-ray and AI is being used by law enforcement to get a detailed view of what locations may look like on the inside when police must issue a warrant or raid a house. Source: AlphaStock/ Adobe Stock

Law enforcement and rescue operations

AI's real-time analysis and decision-making prove invaluable in safety and rescue operations. In scenarios where every second counts, AI-enhanced tools are transforming how first responders tackle emergencies and save lives.

The complexity of police search warrant execution is a complex and risky process as police officers encounter resistance, violence or booby traps. AI X-Ray vision combines AI and X-ray imaging to create a virtual representation of a hidden environment. Using wearable AI-powered goggles, law enforcement can see X-ray images in real time and interact with occupants or suspects using voice or gesture commands. It can also help search and rescue workers find, and extract survivors or victims trapped under rubble or debris of a collapsed building, a landslide or a tsunami.

Chatbots are facilitating crime reporting by victims, virtual assistants are supporting evidence collection and case construction, and predictive modeling is improving patrol routes. Law enforcement agencies are even preventing crimes by using AI to identify high-risk individuals and intervening before incidents occur.

Electronic skin that mimics the properties and functions of human skin is being used to improve the health and safety of law enforcement officers. Inspired by the NASA model of astronaut health care, electronic skin is a wearable technology that can monitor various physiological and environmental parameters, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, sweat and stress hormones. It is being embedded as microfluids or biosensors to collect and analyze sweat, saliva or blood samples. As it uses AI to identify patterns, trends and anomalies, it is providing insights and predictions about the health status and risks of officers.

Agriculture and environmental management

In agriculture, AI aids in sustainable farming and environmental conservation through crop yield management and soil health. AI systems can process weather data, soil conditions and crop growth patterns to recommend the best planting and harvesting schedules, thereby maximizing yield and reducing crop loss.

Addressing the decline in bee populations due to environmental pressures, AI-powered robotic bees are being developed to assist in crop pollination. These robots perform tasks that mimic natural pollinators, ensuring agricultural productivity does not falter due to the reduction in bee numbers.

Applications like iNaturalist and eBirds collect data from experts to track species populations, favorable ecosystems, and migration patterns. AI tools like those developed by the startup PEAT are focusing on diagnosing plant health issues, transforming the way farmers receive advice, buy agri-inputs and manage farms.

The United Nations estimates that the number of forest fires globally could increase by 30% by 2050. As the frequency and ferocity of wildfires escalates, companies like Robotto are providing autonomous AI quadcopter drones to navigate through dense smoke to help make rapid decisions for custom firefighting strategies, and automatically alert resident cell phones in affected areas for timely and efficient evacuations.

AI is also being used to analyze social media to detect early signs of wildfires and locate an ignition point quickly. They are also setting the stage for the next generation of firefighting technologies including AI-controlled water bombers.

Unconventional applications

Beyond traditional sectors, AI’s versatility is showcased in a range of unexpected domains. Such adaptability highlights the technology’s ability to leverage and assimilate data to address all kinds of problems.

AI is being used to scrutinize the authenticity of artwork to determine authenticity and provenance. The face of St. Joseph in the painting of Madonna della Rosa, traditionally attributed to Raphael may not have been painted by Raphael. Using AI applications like ResNet50 and Support Vector Machine, scholars recently discovered that the face lacked the master's distinctive brushwork and stylistic signatures. traditional art scholarship without replacing the nuanced expertise of human specialists.

ELLI.Q is an AI-powered proactive, voice-operated care companion that keeps seniors engaged in conversation and occupied during the day. It is a friendly and intelligent sidekick that can tell jokes, provide access to social media and video chat, and maintain healthier and happier living. It also provides daily check-ins, sets and tracks wellness goals, and assesses general health.

Solid believers in astrology, numerology or the zodiac are getting inspiration through clairvoyant bots. Some think AI-powered fortune tellers are better than human mentalists at forecasting events since they can extract their wisdom from a much larger database of information. The Faladdin app is one example of this that combines coffee cup photos one sends in with other shared information to present customized astrology readings.

The German fragrance house, Symrise, has been using AI to analyze chemical formulas to develop a whole new way of preparing new fragrances. With a 220-year heritage they are reshaping modern perfumery by bringing together recognized noses, master perfumers and AI experts to create some of the most prolific fine fragrances in the world.

Ethical and societal implications

As AI ventures into novel territories, it introduces a spectrum of ethical challenges and societal concerns. Although these unconventional uses are fascinating, they introduce complex considerations.

Talent and employment: AI has the potential to bridge existing skills gaps while simultaneously creating new roles, such as prompt engineering, which could reshape labor markets and workplace dynamics.

Data privacy: The integration of AI and large language models raises significant data privacy issues that require new strategies to protect individual privacy without stifling innovation.

Vulnerability to cyberattacks: With advancing capabilities, cybercriminals are likely to exploit these technologies to initiate novel forms of attacks.

Enhanced collaboration: The evolving threat landscape will necessitate tighter collaboration between security, IT and engineering sectors.

The implementation of AI across an array of domains must be accompanied by rigorous ethical oversight and robust regulatory frameworks to ensure that technological advancements contribute positively to society without infringing on individual rights or ethical integrity.


It is clear that AI’s potential is limitless. It is a catalyst for redefining the conceivable, opening doors to innovations that could radically transform our future. As AI ventures beyond traditional applications, its adaptability and potential to surprise us grows, these advancements also bring to light pressing ethical concerns, such as the potential impact on democratic values and the attribution of credit in AI-generated content.

As we explore these pioneering applications, we begin to appreciate how profoundly AI could weave into the fabric of our daily existence, reshaping fields like law enforcement, healthcare and farming in profound ways. The challenge is to navigate this new era of AI with a vigilant eye on ethical considerations and cultural impacts, ensuring that technology augments our shared human experiences without compromising our values or autonomy.

About the author

Emily Main holds a J.D. in Compliance Law and a BS in Telecommunications. With extensive experience in the intersection of technology and law, Main has contributed to numerous publications and conferences, exploring technical challenges, innovations, trends and applications. Passionate about communication and networking, she is dedicated to sharing the latest advances in the field with a professional engineering audience through engaging and informative articles.

To contact the author of this article, email GlobalSpecEditors@globalspec.com

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