Can AI Help Humanity?
Mon, April 19, 2021

Can AI Help Humanity?

No innovation is expected to be more pervasive and transformative than artificial intelligence and machine learning / Photo by: Zapp2Photo via Shutterstock

 

No innovation is expected to be more pervasive and transformative than artificial intelligence and machine learning. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute reported that AI could add about 16% or $13 trillion to global output by 2030. The annual increase in productivity growth can substantially surpass the impact of earlier technologies that have fundamentally transformed our world such as broadband internet, computers, and steam engine. 

But with those advancements and success come humanity’s biggest problems: inequality, war, climate change, famine, risk of economic collapse, poverty, and overpopulation. AI has the ability to spread the impacts of these problems and drive great leaps forward to solve civilization’s greatest challenges. However, a lot of people are still not convinced that technology can revolutionize humanity. 

Thus, another study by McKinsey Global Institute examined more than 150 scenarios where AI is applied or could be applied for social good. The findings showed that it could make a powerful contribution in resolving several societal challenges. However, development bottlenecks and application risks should be overcome first before AI’s impacts can be realized on a global scale. 

According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, AI is already changing how our world tackles human-development challenges. For instance, an object-detection software and satellite imagery helped rescuers in Houston in 2017 to see the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Also, algorithms have helped reduce poaching in wildlife parks in Africa, voice-recognition programs have been used in emergency calls to detect whether callers are experiencing cardiac arrest in Denmark, and researchers at the MIT Media Lab have used “reinforcement learning in simulated clinical trials to reduce chemotherapy doses.

How AI Can Serve Humanity, According to Google Report

Last May, 20 organizations from various parts of the world received Global AI Impact Challenge grants. They awarded $25 million in grants to these groups to help them apply machine learning in fighting the world’s biggest challenges. One of the recipients is Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Colombia with its use of computer vision and satellite imagery in detecting illegal mining operations known to contaminate local drinking water. 

New York University and Fire Department of New York (FDNY) was also awarded for initiating a project that reduces response time for 1.7 million annual emergency service calls. On the other hand, the American University of Beirut in Lebanon won the grant for using machine learning in helping farmers save water used for crop irrigation and food production. According to VentureBeat, an online technology news platform that is engaged in technology publication and events business, the project highly recommended creating partnerships between organizations. 

“We believe a partnership between organizations with deep sector expertise and organizations with technical expertise are the most actionable near-term opportunity to develop and operationalize the use of AI for social good,” Google said. 

Last May, 20 organizations from various parts of the world received Global AI Impact Challenge grants. They awarded $25 million in grants to these groups to help them apply machine learning in fighting the world’s biggest challenges / Photo by: blvdone via Shutterstock

 

The search giant’s recent report showed that AI can meaningfully improve people’s lives. It has a huge potential in addressing big social, humanitarian, and environmental problems. The company analyzed 2,602 applications from six continents and 119 countries to determine how AI can be used for social good. The projects included those addressing various issues in education, environment, and more.

One of the key findings of the assessment revealed that organizations in equality and inclusion, economic empowerment, and crisis response sectors lack meaningful data sets, while those working in health, environmental, education, and the public and social sectors are more likely to have access to necessary data. The report showed that 55% of not-for-profit organizations and 40% of for-profit social enterprises have no prior experience with AI. This shows that they still needed to have a better understanding of AI to compete with private sector organizations. 

“Throughout our review process, we saw that even the most mature organizations underestimated the time and resources needed to prepare and maintain the data for algorithm use,” the report read. 

It concluded that humanitarian or social impact organizations should improve their assessment of AI solutions. This will help them in better understanding the potential negative implications of the technology on humanity.

Ensuring AI Unlocks its Full Potential

Unfortunately, AI’s ability to thrive is being threatened by issues of bias, civil rights, workforce displacement, and many more. This can have significant impacts in addressing the world’s biggest humanity problems. To serve its purpose to humanity, AI should be built to amplify, not replace. Many companies across the world are investing in AI to replace workers, hoping to automate the production and minimize the labor costs. However, this is a bad strategy because it doesn’t grasp AI’s fullest potential.

According to Fast Company, a progressive business media brand with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, leadership, and design, Dr. Radhika Dirks, CEO of XLabs, stated that the biggest opportunity in AI is “not machines that think like us or do what we do, but machines that think in ways we cannot conceive and do what we cannot.” Instead of replacing workers, companies should build an environment where humans and machines would collaborate. 

Also, it’s important that AI is easily understandable for people to gain their trust. This is critical since AI’s function not only revolves around simple tasks but also coming up with decisions that will affect the lives of people across the world. Fortunately, companies are working on this. For instance, the US Department of Defense invested in explainable AI (XAI) in producing “glass box” AI models that are interpretable in real-time. 

The real question is: can AI help humanity? The answer is yes. However, companies and industries should maximize the fullest potential of the technology to make sure that humanity will indeed benefit. 

Unfortunately, AI’s ability to thrive is being threatened by issues of bias, civil rights, workforce displacement, and many more. This can have significant impacts in addressing the world’s biggest humanity problems / Photo by: Phonlamai Photo via Shutterstock