Can Artificial Intelligence be used for social good?
February 22, 2019 by Sam Hemmant
Buzzwords such as "AI", "machine learning" and "Big Data" have without doubt become a major topic in today’s tech scene and they are here to stay. But the innovation force behind Artificial Intelligence and its related aspects has also found its way to the center stage of our society. Can Artificial Intelligence be used for the greater good of society? And what role should corporations play in it?
How to apply AI for social good
While AI is not a silver bullet, it can help tackle many of our society's most challenging problems on a social, economic and environmental level.
Tech giants such as Microsoft and Google have already started applying their knowledge and financial resources to build platforms made for young developers and innovators, who are eager to use AI for the better of our society.
"AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire," – Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google
A recent discussion paper created by McKinsey demonstrated how potential applications of AI for social good can also contribute to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future for all. According to McKinsey’s analysis, AI initiatives are underway that can have a positive impact on SDGs, including:
- 29 for good health and well-being
- 24 for peace, justice and strong institutions
- 13 for quality education
- 10 for life on land
- 10 for ending poverty
- 9 for industry, innovation and infrastructure
- 7 for reducing inequality
- 6 for climate action
- 5 for decent work and economic growth
- 4 for zero hunger
- 3 each for gender equality; sustainable cities and communities; and responsible consumption and production
- 2 each for clean water and sanitation and affordable and clean energy
- 1 for life below water
To further promote and encourage the use of AI for social good, the United Nations introduced the AI for Good Foundation in 2016. Its aim is to champion activities to maximize the beneficial side of Artificial Intelligence technologies and innovations through the lens of global sustainable development.
Asked about the likely benefits of Artificial Intelligence on society during its latest Global Summit Frederic Werner, a member of the steering and outreach committee of AI for Good said that "Developing countries potentially have the most to gain from AI, if it's done correctly, but also potentially the most to lose."
Combating Climate Change with AI
2018 saw an unprecedented surge in natural disasters and global weather anomalies. Increasing numbers of wildfires and an annually intensifying hurricane season are only two of numerous challenges communities worldwide are facing due to climate change. Experts of the European Commission argue that an increased severity and frequency of urban flooding due to intense rainfall will be another major threat for millions of people in the future.
The safety of communities worldwide can be enhanced by using predictive analytics to identify flood risk zones and vulnerabilities worldwide. According to a recent article published by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, AI datasets could also be used to promote energy efficiency on a city scale to forecast the energy demand. Additionally AI-based simulations can help urban developers minimise the harmful effect of natural disasters.
Big Data, AI and Commitment to SDGs Will Go A Long Way
Fueled with the right data, machine learning can steadily improve its positive impact on our daily lives.AI—along with relatively new tech innovations such as blockchain—are undeniably increasing our ability to solve some of the world’s most urgent challenges.