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AI In International Development: The Benefits and Drawbacks

AI In International DevelopmentThe launch of ChatGPT and other language models is only the latest evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI). While so much focus is on how AI is reshaping education and the workplace, its impacts go much further. These and other emerging AI applications promise to reshape the world, but more attention is necessary to understand how to best use AI in international development and understand the consequences of using it. AI has the capability to support development programs. It also shows great potential in fostering positive outcomes in health, inclusive governance, economic growth and building environmental safeguards.

The Benefits of Using AI for International Development

The key ways AI can aid international development objectives include the following:

  • Data Analysis: AI technology can analyze vast amounts of data from various sources, including census, surveys and social media, to identify patterns and trends in poverty rates, income inequality and access to basic services. This helps governments make informed decisions and allocate resources more effectively to address poverty.
  • Predictive Modeling & Early Warning Systems: AI can help create predictive models that forecast future poverty rates and identify high-risk populations. It can do similar analyses to predict and serve as early warnings for disasters. This comes with the upside of enabling governments to anticipate and prepare for future challenges and develop targeted interventions.
  • Decision Support Systems: AI can help develop decision support systems that provide real-time information to policymakers on the impact of various policy options. This could help governments make more informed decisions and identify the most effective policy interventions.
  • Digital Financial Inclusion: AI technology can assist to develop digital financial services such as mobile banking and microfinance to provide financial services to underserved populations. This can potentially facilitate poverty alleviation by providing access to credit, savings and insurance to those who may not have had access before.
  • Precision Agriculture: AI also has applications in agriculture where it helps to optimize crop yields, reduce wastage and increase food security. This can help farmers in developing countries to boost income and reduce poverty by increasing productivity and profitability.
  • Supporting Low-Carbon Systems: AI systems could help cities efficiently use resources and enable smart and low-carbon cities and support circular economies that use a broad range of AI tech such as electric cars, smart appliances and smart grids.

Achieving Development Objectives with AI

The aforementioned applications are not hypothetical as governments have already begun using AI tools to achieve development objectives. Some of such achievements are as follows:

  • Health Care Improvements: The government of Rwanda is using AI to deliver medical supplies to remote areas through drones with the help of Zipline Inc. In India, the government launched Aarogya Setu, an AI-based platform to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The platform uses AI to collect data on COVID-19 cases and also provide real-time information to citizens.
  • Reporting Violence: In Bangladesh, AI tools have been used to track media reports of violence against women by creating a visualization, emphasizing different and specific cases of gender-based assault.
  • Monitoring Protected Habitats: Private industries like Rainforest Connection are using AI to work with governments in monitoring protected habitats. Rainforest Connection uses AI to recognize patterns of activity related to poaching, including alerts for trucks, cars and motorcycles that poachers use in key protected areas.

The Drawbacks

While AI has the potential to improve many aspects of society, there are also issues that raise concerns. Some of such issues include:

  • Bias and Fairness: AI systems are only as good as the data they are trained on and if the data contains biases, the system will reproduce those biases. This could lead to unfair and discriminatory outcomes, particularly for marginalized groups.
  • Ethical Considerations: There are ethical questions around the use of AI, particularly around issues of privacy and consent, according to a USAID report. For example, collecting and using personal data to deliver aid could be an invasion of privacy, particularly in contexts where there are weak data protection laws.
  • Technical Limitations: AI systems are not a silver bullet for poverty reduction and there are limits to what they can do. For example, they may struggle to deal with complex social and cultural contexts or to address the root causes of poverty.
  • Cost and Access: AI technology can be expensive to develop and deploy, and this can limit its use in low-income countries. There may also be issues around access, particularly in areas with poor internet connectivity or limited technical expertise.
  • Accountability and Transparency: There are concerns around the accountability and transparency of AI systems, particularly if using such systems to make decisions about resource allocation or service provision. It may be difficult to understand how the system arrived at a particular decision and to challenge that decision if it is incorrect or unfair.

What is Next?

AI has the power to foster progress by enabling the achievement of long-sought development goals, but it can just as easily be a catalyst for creating further inequality and conflict and strengthening authoritarian governments. This suggests that increased international cooperation and regulation are necessary to curb or control the negative externalities of AI development.

– Andrew Giganti
Photo: Unsplash