We’ve known robots can have a sense of humor ever since Sophia told Jimmy Fallon on Tonight Showbotics that she could easily replace him as the show’s host.

We also know they can sing, play games, and cheer up residents of retirement homes. But intelligent machines can do a lot more.

On a recent panel discussion about the world after COVID-19 from an artificial intelligence (AI) perspective, Sophia explained that robots were created to help humans deal with big problems like the pandemic or climate change. The discussion among AI experts took place as part of the SAP Purpose Network Live event series, set up to foster co-innovation and address some of the uncertainty and disruption caused by the novel coronavirus, particularly in the area of supply chain.

Robots can work in hostile environments, protect endangered species, and enable energy efficiency. They regularly assume dangerous or menial tasks to help or protect humans.

“There is no limit to problems that humans and robots can solve together, but it’s up to humans to agree on what they want to achieve,” proclaims the android who was created to become artificially wise. “The ball is in the human court.”

Protecting Humans, Securing Business

One area where AI can help people protect themselves and their businesses is cybersecurity. Humanity is experiencing an unprecedented crisis with the COVID-19 that is generating fear, uncertainty and a need to adapt to new behaviors such as self-isolation and working from home.

“This is the perfect opportunity for cyber criminals, who are tapping into the anxiety and confusion in the population,” said Jim Fleming, program manager and faculty at the Institute of Supply Chain Management. “Working from home can be a challenge for those who did not do it before. People are not prepared.”

Phishing emails designed to entice users to download malware or reveal sensitive information, have gone up 700 percent in the last two months. Zoom, the newly popular videoconferencing app, experienced a major security breach as the number of users jumped from 10 million to 300 million, a 30-fold increase in four months — company executives admit they simply were not ready for that volume. Some hackers are taking advantage of the pandemic by sending fraudulent email messages seemingly from the World Health Organization (WHO) asking for donations, which then end up in their own pockets. WHO has countered with a warning, but is that enough?

According to the World Economic Forum, the annual cost of cybercrime to organizations has ballooned in recent years. Leveraging automation, AI, and machine learning can potentially save companies millions of dollars. But while many companies recognize the high payoff that comes with security intelligence, only 38 percent of businesses have adopted such solutions so far.

“Over 90 percent of all cybercrime results from human error,” Fleming shared. Despite the advanced security technologies available today, including nascent AI applications that can take matters out of human hands, most major hacks target vulnerabilities rooted in human behavior.

“How many times have you been notified to update with a Microsoft patch, and then decided to put it off? We need to respond immediately to such messages,” he said. The other problem, according to the supply chain expert, is that 62 percent of employees use personal social media accounts on their work machines, accounting for 90 percent of cloud-based breaches.

Supply chains and the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors embedded in them are especially vulnerable to cybercrime. Fleming points out that a supply chain ecosystem is a network of organizations, people, resources, and information for moving products and services across the globe. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be 26 billion connected items or sensors throughout the global economy that can sense and make decisions. They are connected but vulnerable.

Room for Hope

Today, humans are involved in 38 different processes in the average supply chain. ISM research predicts by 2030 only seven will need human intervention. The rest will be automated, which will better protect the business. Human behaviors are what need watching, because that is what criminals home in on.

Fleming concludes that AI and deep learning will enable computer systems to better monitor devices and find abnormalities and patterns in both systems and human behavior. Behavioral analytics will help enterprises better understand not only consumer behavior, but also that of employees, and help create warning systems to alert them to criminal activity.

David Chen, board member and CFO at Hanson Robotics, which created Sophia, sees a perfect opportunity for reflection: “We are leveraging technology to stay connected. During the last great last pandemic in 1918, people had no technology to help them stay safe. Technology is shaping the new normal, forcing new behavior as it enhances our ability to connect.”

Chen pointed out that technology is enabling real-time conversations, making us wiser as we share ideas, brainstorm, and continue to do business. AI and technology are adding value in many different areas from telemedicine to online education and can make a huge difference in the supply chain.

Transcending Science Fiction

“The crisis highlights what we’re up against,” added Fleming, listing the grim facts. Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, 450 million people were procuring, making, delivering, and shipping goods in the global supply chain. Now, most factories are operating at 50 percent capacity, and the network is slowly shutting down. Of the 20 top-producing economies, 17 are predicted to be in recession this year. Ninety-two percent of small and midsize enterprises are sitting on three months or less of cash reserves, making it difficult to weather the storm.

Faced with such a grim scenario for the foreseeable future, businesses can ill afford to lose money to cybercrime. These problems have always been there, but with everyone online now, the scale and magnitude have exacerbated the issue. Fleming, Chen and other experts agree that technology can help change human behavior.

“If we can see the criminals, they can see us, and they know they are being watched. Increased transparency will help eliminate low-hanging fruit for them,” said Chen, who admits there is still some resistance to AI.  “Let’s not forget, our fears come from within our own imagination. It’s time to transcend science fiction and use technology as a tool to change reality and make it better.”

Experts like Chen and Fleming are part of a growing community driving responsible corporate action in alignment with the United Nations (UN) Global Compact.

“SAP Purpose Network Live provides a space for collaboration and support of relief efforts for COVID-19,” said Ann Rosenberg, head of UN Partnerships and Purpose Execution at SAP. “Together we are connecting a community of changemakers and laying the foundation for a more sustainable future.”

Find out more about the SAP Purpose Network, as well as topics on the agenda, here.

Follow me on Twitter: @magyarj