AI Improves FarmingOnce a far-fetched, abstract idea, artificial intelligence is now proving to be a valuable asset in solving world hunger. Although AI is still in its earlier stage of development, progress is being made by corporations and university programs such as Google and Stanford University’s Sustainability and Artificial Intelligence Lab. No longer merely science fiction, now AI improves farming, helps identify disease, predicts crop yields and locates areas prone to scarcity.

FarmView Increases Sorghum Yields

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University created FarmView to help solve the issue of a rapidly increasing population. By 2050, over 9.8 billion people will live on the planet, making food scarcity a topic of increasing importance. Additionally, CMU wants to help current farmers grow more food using the same amount of crops. And as AI improves farming methods, CMU believes it’s a possibility.

CMU is working with plant scientists and agricultural leaders to develop and deploy a system of AI, sensing and robotics technologies to improve plant breeding and crop management. One aim is to increase yields of drought and heat resistant sorghum–a crop that can thrive in famine-stricken countries. Researchers first collect data with drones, robots and stationary sensors. Then, machine learning technologies analyze the data to determine what factors yield more sorghum.

Agricultural Improvement with Google’s TensorFlow

Another AI technology created to help the agriculture industry is PlantMD. Created by high school students Shaza Mehdi and Nile Ravanell, PlantMD is an app that allows a farmer to detect plant diseases.  Mehdi and Ravanell built the app using Google’s TensorFlow, an open-source machine learning library.

Inspiration for PlantMD came from Nuru, an app built by a research team at Penn State University called PlantVillage in tandem with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

Nuru was created as a solution to disease and pest susceptibility in cassava, a crop that feeds half a billion Africans daily. Because it is difficult for farmers to inspect and manage every crop, machine learning is being used to increase efficiency. First, a machine learning model was trained using thousands of classified cassava images. The model was then turned into an app where farmers can send images of their crop and receive information not only identifying diseases but also giving options to manage them. With this information, vital African agriculture can be better sustained to feed people.

Stanford University’s Research

Similar to PlantVillage and the IITA, Stanford University is utilizing machine learning in order to understand and predict crop yields in soybeans. But these models may be expanded to help underdeveloped countries.

Marshall Burke, an assistant professor of earth system science at Stanford, said: “If we have a model that works for U.S. soybeans, maybe we can train that model for areas with less data.”

Machine learning can also identify areas in underdeveloped countries suffering from food scarcity. Because these countries often lack reliable agricultural data, machine learning technology is extracting information from satellite images to discover areas where agriculture is suffering.

Solving the World’s Problems with AI

Google’s open-source TensorFlow allows machine learning technologies to be applied to agriculture. Moustapha Cisse, lead of the new Google AI center in Accra, Ghana, mentioned how farmers use TensorFlow-based apps like PlantMD and Nuru to diagnose plant diseases. Cisse said: “This wasn’t done by us but by people who use the tools we built.” Although not everyone owns a phone, it’s an excellent step in demonstrating the possibilities of AI in reducing poverty. And as AI improves farming, it brings us another step closer to reducing world hunger.

Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

diagnose birth asphyxiaBirth asphyxia is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It occurs when a child does not get enough oxygen before, during or after birth. However, an app under development could detect asphyxia in as little as 10 seconds. As such, this app has the potential to diagnose birth asphyxia and save the lives of children.

Causes and Symptoms of Asphyxia

Some causes of perinatal asphyxia include low blood pressure in the mother, placental abruption wherein the placenta separates from the uterus wall and the compression or entanglement of the umbilical cord. Additionally, birth asphyxia can be caused if the uterus does not fully relax. This is because it can impede blood flow to the placenta and thus the child.

As a result, the symptoms of children suffering from asphyxia include a weak or irregular heart rate, weak reflexes, being blue in color, lethargy and/or a soft cry.

This last symptom, a soft cry, is important. It is what Ubenwe, a Nigerian AI company, relies on to diagnose birth asphyxia. Moreover, Ubenwe plans to save children from debilitating illnesses resulting from brain damage caused by asphyxia, like blindness or deafness.

What is Ubenwe?

Ubenwe is a mobile app that uses proprietary AI technology to detect weak crying that can be a sign of asphyxia. In their words, the app can “analyze the amplitude and frequency patterns in the cry to provide a diagnosis of birth asphyxia.”

Ubenwe is an Igbo word that means “cry of a child.” In clinical trials, where the app tested 1,400 recordings of children crying, the app can diagnose birth asphyxia with a 95 percent accuracy rate. By recognizing this key symptom of asphyxia immediately and accurately, Ubenwe can save many lives.

Nigerian student Charles Onu and his research team invented the app at McGill University in Canada. Additionally, Onu is an associate fellow at the Royal Commonwealth Society. He is one of 12 fellows from around the world chosen to take part in the Jeanne Suave’ Leadership Program. This program brings together the world’s brightest young leaders to end global problems.

In 2017, Ubenwe was one of 141 teams from around the world to make it into the X Prize competition. This competition encourages inventors to apply AI technology when solving global problems. Subsequently, Ubenwe began research and development in 2012. In 2014, Ubenwe began pilot testing.

The Importance of Ubenwe

Currently, the main method to diagnose birth asphyxia requires drawing blood from the umbilical cord or the baby. However, this method is not suitable because 60 percent of women worldwide do not give birth in a hospital. Half of all deaths that occur in middle- to low-income nations could be prevented if the afflicted had had access to a hospital. Often, by the time the parents of a child are able to reach a hospital, the harm has already been done.

However, 95 percent of the developing world has a mobile phone. Ultimately, every one of those 95 percent could have access to Ubenwe and potentially diagnose birth asphyxia. With the majority of developing countries having access to mobile phones, they have increasing access to apps with the power to save lives.

– Sarah Bradley
Photo: Flickr

artificial intelligence for global developmentThe human brain is limited when it comes to computing power and pattern recognition. Luckily, using recent technology, we are able to use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) for global development purposes, can gain insight on a variety of problems and attempt to make predictions about the future. Computers can analyze massive datasets and learn from them more efficiently than humans can. Around the world, people are taking advantage of AI to do valuable work and improve people’s standard of living. Here are four examples of how people and organizations are using artificial intelligence for global development.

4 Ways to Use Artificial Intelligence for Global Development

  1. Based on patterns of past events, AI can make predictions about the occurrences and effects of disasters. In these situations, knowledge is everything; when people are informed, they can make plans to evacuate or reinforce infrastructure as needed. Google is using AI to predict flood locations during storms in India, and is then able to alert residents. Similarly, IBM is using AI to predict the location and intensity of volcanic eruptions based on past data. Another program by the World Bank is using AI to predict famines, and is arranging for funds to be provided to people in areas affected by famine.
  2. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can be used to advise people on best practices for farming efficiency. Microsoft has worked with farmers in India to help them monitor crop health, identify diseased plants and recommend certain crops based on weather patterns, soil conditions and economic patterns. In another case, Trinchero Family Estates in California partnered with Ceres Imaging, using AI to analyze their watering patterns. This technology, which uses drone images to optimize crop watering, could be useful for water conservation in areas where water is scarce.
  3. AI can help monitor human rights violations. Microsoft has partnered with the Clooney Foundation for Justice to create the TrialWatch app. The project, which is part of Microsoft’s AI for Humanitarian Action program, aims to monitor potentially unjust trials. The app uses AI to record, transcribe and translate courtroom audio, which can be used to determine whether a defendant has a fair trial. It will also form a database so that trial practices from various nations can be observed and compared.
  4. AI helps make analyzing medical data easier. Making decisions about medical diagnoses is often complicated and not entirely clear-cut. AI can analyze patient information and alert doctors to certain issues, often identifying problems more accurately than human medical professionals. A 2017 project from Andre Esteva at Stanford University used AI to classify skin cancer images, and the AI system performed on par with dermatologists. In addition, Professor Rima Arnaut of UC San Francisco has developed a system that uses AI to analyze an echocardiogram, a heart test. So far, the technology has not been used to make judgements about the content of the images, but in early tests in which the system was asked to detect the “type of view” of various echocardiograms, the AI system outperformed trained cardiologists in the task. Certainly many aspects of medical analysis require human analysis, but these programs can accelerate analyses and assist medical professionals in providing the best possible care for their patients.

These impressive uses of AI will save lives and will assist citizens of many countries in achieving a better standard of living. As experts continue to work on machine learning and artificial intelligence, and as computers become smarter and more capable, the use of artificial intelligence for global development will likely continue to improve conditions for people around the globe.

– Meredith Charney
Photo: Flickr

Artificial Intelligence in Africa
With many of the world’s fastest-growing economies and tech markets, Africa’s next logical step of developing artificial intelligence (AI) and assimilating it into various industries is quickly becoming reality. Despite fears of worsening unemployment rates and widening wealth distribution disparity, many tech companies and governments are finding ways of using artificial intelligence in Africa to improve lives.

The Current State of Technology

In countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia, whose steadily growing economies are due in part to the rise and success of tech industry growth, local startups are addressing issues unique to the areas in which they operate. Despite the technology growth and development, many people are afraid that the implementation of artificial intelligence in Africa will take jobs away from workers, leading to increased unemployment rates that have long troubled various African countries.

Understanding that many Africans do not currently have access to the level of education needed to qualify for loftier jobs, governments of the African countries have set out to make education more attainable and more specialized, and global tech giants have made it clear that they see potential in Africa in the tech industry, specifically in artificial intelligence in Africa, and are looking to take advantage of this potential.

Unlocking Potential

Artificial intelligence in Africa has already yielded substantial results, promising a bright future as the industry grows so long as it receives proper support from government and tech organizations. For example, governments must change the school curriculums to meet the demands of the modern workforce, cultivating analytical thinkers with the ability to identify and solve everyday problems.

Tech companies including Facebook and Google have already established a respective presence in Africa, acknowledging both the capable minds the continent already has to offer as well as the increasing need for reform in education. Google has opened an AI research center in Ghana, where it has also begun construction of a fiber-optic line that will strengthen the internet for the country. It will draw students from local universities that have already made headway in specializing in computer sciences and other fields of study crucial to the growth of AI and the tech industry as a whole.

In areas such as health care, insurance and manufacturing, AI has already yielded significant beneficial results for Africa. As issues in these and other fields accumulate naturally with growth, tech professionals see AI as the key to maintaining and improving the lives of many people in Africa and around the world.

Looking Forward

While AI still has a stigma and is consider a luxury, other people see the tech industry as vital to solving practical problems whose solutions may not be realized quickly enough by human efforts alone. The fear that artificial intelligence in Africa will take away jobs is legitimate in that the very objective of AI is to accomplish the work of humans more quickly and efficiently.

Governments of African countries can improve and adapt education and if global tech leaders continue to see potential in Africa and support its growth, the tech industry will demand increasing numbers of educated Africans to match the industry’s rapid growth.

– Rob Lee
Photo: Pixabay

Using ‘evil’ technology in the fight against poverty
Technology is neither inherently good or bad; it is, rather, humanity’s use of technology that can be considered as evil or virtuous. Certain modern tools have the reputation for being capable of carrying out despicable deeds and are, therefore, surrounded by controversy. Artificial intelligence and drones are two of the most widely commentated on and feared applications of modern science. Despite this prevailing negative perception, combatting poverty is happens to be one of the good uses of AI and drones.

Drones Revealing Inequalities

Drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), are often used in violent attacks and warfare, but they, along with their human operators, are also doing wonderful things across the world. Photographer Jonny Miller used drones to capture cities and show the line dividing the rich and the poor.

He captured images of lush, green golf courses directly up against dirt roads and shack neighborhoods. You can see giant mansions with trees and acres of grass next door to brown areas with buildings squished into a small plot. Miller’s project “Unequal Scenes” is raising awareness about poverty and inequality, which would be impossible without drone photography.

Drones Mapping Land

Another way that drones are helping alleviate poverty is through land mapping. More than half the world’s population, usually women, cannot prove they own their land. This is especially problematic in Kosovo where most of the men and boys were murdered during the Balkan wars in the late 90s. The women who remained have worked tirelessly to rebuild their homes and their communities. One enormous roadblock is their inability to use their vast land resources to provide for themselves economically.

These women do not have any sort of documentation for their lands once owned by their husbands. One woman explained that she had applied for loans to build her business, but she was repeatedly turned down because she lacked “property documents to put down as a guarantee.” These communities do not have the means to hire the land surveyors necessary for official registration. Property owners with potentially good, profitable land are powerless without official documentation for their land.

However, drones are helping these women. The World Bank Group’s Global Land and Geospatial unit dispatch drones to map out land plots for a fraction of the cost of traditional land surveyors, giving the Kosovan women the ability to register their lands and ultimately invest in their own property.

AI for Safety and Health

Artificial intelligence (AI), also referred to as “machine learning,” is the “capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.” It’s often associated with movies about robots destroying humanity that are based on the real fear that one day these machines will become self-aware and grow tired of serving humanity. “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” warned Stephen Hawking in 2014. Despite this destructive potential of AI, in the real world, it is currently transforming agriculture and changing businesses in Africa.

One article argues that Africa is amid the “fourth industrial revolution … ushered in by the power of AI.” Many innovative African business leaders have embraced AI to improve productivity and efficiency. One example is the Moroccan company Casky that uses AI to perform analytics on data sent from devices on motorcycle helmets. This has been improving riding habits and providing more accurate insurance premiums, reducing costs and improving safety for riders.

One Algerian firm helps local doctors provide cancer detection and treatment for their patients. The AI creates models that can diagnose those who are unable to visit hospitals for formal examinations. This has the potential to save many lives of those who don’t have the means to get regular checkups and screenings.

AI Helping Businesses

Another instance showing the advantages of AI is the reduction of consumer costs from companies like Niotek in Egypt. This company used AI to improve service quality and reduce the likelihood of human error. AI is also reducing overall costs for farmers and helping to improve their yields in India where RFID tags are being used in dairy cows to provide important information about the cows’ diets and overall health. The information is then stored in a “cow cloud” where it is “AI-analyzed.” The farmers receive alerts about any potential issues or if a cow requires their attention. This can reduce costs and increase efficiency for the farmers.

These are just a few of the many examples of good uses of AI and drones.  They have been especially useful in the fight against poverty. Cases like these prove that technology cannot be inherently evil and that there are good uses of AI and drones. While some individuals may want to use modern equipment to destroy the world, there are plenty of people looking to use the same tools to improve the world.

Sarah Stanley

Photo: Flickr

Famine Action Mechanism
The World Bank has discovered a new approach to helping the 124 million people currently affected by crisis-levels of food insecurity: artificial intelligence.

Three international organizations: the World Bank, the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have partnered with three of the world’s largest tech giants: Microsoft, Google and Amazon, in a joint initiative to preemptively address world hunger. The result? It’s called the Famine Action Mechanism (FAM).

What is Famine Action Mechanism?

Launched by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on September 23, 2018, in New York, the Famine Action Mechanism seeks to improve international food aid through famine prevention, preparedness and early action. FAM is being created to augment the capability of existing warning systems to effectively distribute aid prior to the emergence of famine. This is being done through the establishment of official procedures that connect early warnings with financing and implementation.

With the cooperation of humanitarian development organizations, tech companies, academia, the insurance sector and, of course, international organizations, this collaborative effort hopes to see success through the investment of a wide variety of stakeholders.

While other forms of famine prediction, like Famine Early Warning Systems Network started by USAID in 1985, already exist, it lacks the ability to give real-time data and requires the hard work of hundreds of employees.

If successful, the Famine Action Mechanism will be the first quantitative modeling process using an algorithm to calculate food security in real time.

Hope is high for executives at Google and Microsoft who have seen the humanitarian power of technology firsthand. Advanced technologies have already proven effective in helping farmers to identify the disease in cassava plants as well as keeping cows healthier and more productive. President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, has expressed that artificial intelligence holds huge promise in forecasting early signs of food shortages.

How is FAM going to be implemented?

Famine Action will be implemented through four steps:

  1. Early warning systems. Microsoft, Google and Amazon web services are coming together to develop a set of analytical models known as “Artemis” to predict cases of famine using artificial intelligence and machine learning that detect correlations between different risks. With more powerful early warnings and information in real time, this will allow aid agencies to create a faster response and preemptively halt escalating insecurity.
  2. Pre-arranged financing. Syncing the early warning system with pre-determined finances helps to prevent food insecurity because it secures funding before a situation devolves into a crisis. The financing for this program is not only set to tackle the immediate symptoms of poverty and famine but also help the community to build safety nets and coping skills to encourage local development in hopes of preventing repetition in the future.
  3. Increasing resource efficiency. The Famine Action Mechanism plans to partner its resources with existing systems to reinforce the most effective and efficient efforts that are already working on the ground. This way, it will be producing a joint response system with the organizations involved with the program.
  4. Stressing preventative and preparedness approach to global famine crises. International Organizations like the U.N. and World Bank are redefining their approach to food insecurity, poverty and famine, making a proactive system of action rather than reactive aid a top priority of their efforts.

Isn’t Famine Pretty Easy to Predict?

While seemingly slow to take place, the cause of famine, defined as a daily hunger-related death rate that exceeds 2 per 10,000 people, is extremely complex.

The usual suspects of food insecurity like drought and crop production aren’t always the forces that bring a community to famine. Other factors like political instability, inflation or a natural disaster have the potential to significantly alter a community’s food supply. Additionally, nine of the last 10 major famines were triggered by conflict and war.

The uncertainty around when and how an undernourished community shifts into a crisis of famine adds to the importance of preemptive action for food insecurity and the demonstrated need for the Famine Action Mechanism.

Hunger in the World Today

After years of progress on decreasing hunger in the world, we have backtracked on those advancements with more than 820 million undernourished people in 2017. Approximately 155 million children will see the effects of stunting for their entire lives due to chronic malnourishment as well as a reduction of up to 13 percent of their lifetime income. Additionally, last year in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan, more than 20 million people faced famine or near crisis levels of food insecurity.

One in nine people in the world today do not have enough to eat, but that does not mean we cannot get back on track. Not only can early response to famine result in saved lives and decreased suffering, but it is also cost effective. The World Bank predicts that an earlier response rate can reduce humanitarian costs up to 30 percent.

In 2017, the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged to have zero tolerance toward famine, and in the declaration of this program that pledge has been renewed. In the eyes of the United Nations, the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development means ending hunger everywhere for everyone.

To conclude, in the words of Mr. Guterres: “Crisis prevention saves lives. We need to put cutting-edge technology to full use, in the service of all humankind in order to feed everyone in our world and to leave no one behind.”

– Sara Andresen
Photo: Flickr

The Accomplishments of Artificial Intelligence in Alleviating Poverty
In the first half of the twentieth century, Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolved around just science fiction movies but it has come a long way since then. From presenting targeted ads based on one’s Google search history to SIRI and self-driving cars, AI has made progress in various socioeconomic issues as well.

Medical Accomplishments of Artificial Intelligence

One of the most remarkable breakthroughs of AI and machine learning is in healthcare applications. People are using various apps to learn more about themselves and lead a happier and healthier life.

  1. Autism & Beyond App: Recent research shows autism can be detected as early as 18 months old using AI, while previously the disease could not be detected before five years of age. The app Autism & Beyond can study a child’s emotions and behavior from their expressions and understand a child much better to provide early effective treatment.
  2. EpiWatch: This app has been very helpful for patients with epilepsy as it accurately helps measure the body’s vitals during the onset and duration of a seizure in real time. EpiWatch then learns from this data and can predict whether such seizures are imminent. Once the accelerometer and heart rate sensors are triggered, the caregiver or a family member is alerted so there is enough time for the patient to receive immediate help.
  3. Concussion Tracker: This app helps monitor a head injury for a consecutive six weeks by tracking the heart rate and recording other physiological and cognitive functions. It helps to figure out how fatal the concussion is and its possible consequences.
  4. Tumor Detection: Doctors can easily detect a tumor in the brain but quantifying exactly how big it has long been difficult. Microsoft’s Inner Eye has made this possible and has helped accelerate the time of the treatment.

Advancements in AI for Agriculture

Apart from Medical Science, accomplishments of Artificial Intelligence in the fields of agriculture have become widespread. Agriculture is not just old school farming anymore. High tech agriculture starts with variable rate planting equipment that helps identify where a seed will grow best and in what soil conditions it will grow better, thus making farming more efficient than it has ever been. Various AI-based robotic harvesting equipment has also been invented which helps to harvest crops like fruits and berries.

Global Fishing Watch is also one of the many accomplishments of Artificial Intelligence, which has helped stopped illegal fishing across the ocean. Over three billion people depend on seafood for protein in their diets. The global economy loses $83 billion every year to illegal fishing and poor fishery management.

Global Fishing Watch has brought more transparency on the fishing location and behaviors of commercial fishing fleets from every corner of the ocean through processed data sets and fishing activity maps with 95 percent accuracy. Indonesia is the first nation to show its results and, already, multibillion-dollar fines have been charged from the evidence gathered.

AI Combating Global Poverty

Artificial Intelligence has also been a game changer to help predict poverty and fight hunger. Tracking poverty in various places through household survey-based data collection was expensive so AI came to the rescue. In recent years, scientists have tried to identify rich or poor regions by studying nighttime satellite photos on the basis of which places glow brightly.

However, this approach came with a limitation: it could not differentiate between places suffering from near-poverty and those with absolute poverty. A research group at Stanford University recently fed the computer both nighttime and high-resolution daytime satellite images of five countries in Africa along with the household survey data. The device found features like concrete buildings, well-developed roads, agricultural regions and urban areas which helped predict poor places with 81 to 99 percent accuracy. United Nations claims this to be one of the biggest accomplishments of Artificial Intelligence.

Many times, the media focuses on the negative sides of AI but scientists are hopeful that the accomplishments of Artificial Intelligence will do more good than bad. With many more advancements to come, the socioeconomic status of the world is sure to change for the better.

– Shweta Roy
Photo: Google

Technology out of India

India’s reputation for outsourcing has grown over the last 30 years. However, India’s market has dropped due to the recent change in the U.S. political climate and the development of artificial intelligence and automation systems. While things look uncertain now, there is still a strong case for the technology out of India.

Opportunity for Growth

India has been called the “new China” for many companies looking to expand consumer bases. Corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter have largely been banned from China’s market, which is why India provides an important opportunity. The technology out of India would have been unheard of ten years ago, but now with the ballooning smartphone users (hitting 168 million Indian users in 2015) and internet users (around 277 million Indian users as of 2017), an environment for phone applications, mobile payments, social media sites and more are growing.

The big corporations have moved in despite challenges. One such hurdle was the Indian government requesting more than any other country that Facebook remove information (10,792 times in 2014). This change in technological circumstances has opened channels for local Indian companies to develop as well. A 2016 National Association of Software and Services Companies reported India ranked 3rd largest for startups. While there is still some gender inequality with less than 10 percent of Indian entrepreneurs and engineers being women, there is an awareness of the inequality, thus creating an opportunity for change.

Replacing IT Jobs

The IT sector brings in almost 10 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and all trajectories showed growth, but recent layoffs in the industry have caused some question of India’s ability to create a job market and grow. The wave of recent layoffs, estimated to be around 56,000 over the last year, is assumed to be due to automation in a lot of the industry along with U.S. President Trump’s campaign of focussing jobs in the U.S. and cutting back H-1B visas.

Around 60 to 70 percent of jobs in the IT and call center industry are expected to be replaced by automation systems. The layoffs are expected to hit a high of 480,000 by 2021. This makes it difficult as 12 million Indians enter the workforce every year, but only about 135,000 jobs were created by India’s eight biggest sectors, including IT, in 2015. Pankaj Bansal, a chief executive with People Strong, believes the IT sector will hit a net of zero hires in the future unless something changes.

Returning Home

Even with layoffs, many Indian engineers and entrepreneurs are leaving the U.S. to return home and pursue careers in India. Experts estimate the migration home to be in the tens of thousands. Indians are returning home to pursue opportunities closer to family and where their salaries will go farther than in the U.S. The migration back to India shows the job market is still open and available for more technology out of India. Although India’s average GDP has slowed recently, it has still grown tremendously in the past compared to other countries, like the U.S. India’s GDP grew 7.3 percent from 2010 to 2014 while the U.S. GDP only saw a 2.2 percent increase. 

Electronic Payment

A particular segment of the IT sector worth noting is electronic payments. The use of electronic payment is growing in Asia as a whole and many are trying to bring India to a place of acceptance for mobile payment applications. Paytm (an Indian mobile payment technology out of India) in particular plans to invest $1.9 billion over the next two years to make this the electronic payment method the future of India. Only about one-third of citizens have access to the internet, and of those who do, only about 14 percent are making an average of one electronic payment a week. Plus, there is a trust issue from reports of hackers stealing money from Paytm accounts.

Two years ago India was all over the news for being the next China, but many have decreased their expectations and predictions after recently reduced job opportunities. While India is currently facing challenges, if it can find growth prospects, particularly locally, there should be no reason to be unable to turn layoffs into job possibilities.

– Natasha Komen

Photo: Flickr

Using AI to Fight Against PovertyDiscussions about artificial intelligence (AI) often center around one of two ideas: the first looks at the exciting prospect of driverless cars and other advanced technology. The second investigates the irreversible rise of AI and how it could leave an entire socioeconomic class jobless. But it is time to initiate a third discussion around AI: specifically, using AI to fight poverty and helping 3 billion people around the world.

AI is on the Rise

Deputy Secretary-General of the U.N. Amina Mohammed said the greatest global challenge today is eradicating poverty. The elimination of poverty worldwide is the main U.N. Sustainable Development goal, and AI is making this problem easier to solve. So pressing is this issue that the XPRIZE Foundation announced a $5 million prize for projects that are using AI to fight poverty and tackle socio-economic challenges.

Stanford Poverty & Technology Lab is a prime example of the recent proliferation of companies and incubators dedicated to finding technology-based solutions to poverty and gross inequality. “Poverty and economic immobility is clearly a huge problem in the U.S.,” said Elisabeth Mason, founding director of the Stanford Poverty & Technology Lab. “It’s time that we get serious about designing 21st-century solutions.”

AI is Adaptable

While the expansion of AI may threaten blue-collar jobs, the data-mining abilities of AI could also be used to speed up job searches and predict which skills and training will be needed for them. Using AI to fight poverty extends beyond curbing unemployment levels.

AI could also provide the poor with a quality education that responds and adapts to the users’ specific needs. “Access to information has always been a big differentiator with poverty,” Mason said. “If we can use the right tools and develop the right programs, we’re looking at a different world.”

AI could help address or predict some of the primary causes of poverty, including food shortages, epidemics, illiteracy and natural disasters. In times of natural disaster, AI is widely used to determine the location of casualties by analyzing social-media communication and parsing satellite and drone imagery. Scientists at Stanford are using AI and satellite remote-sensing data to anticipate food shortages by accurately predicting crop yields months in advance.

AI is Helpful in Agriculture

Predicting crop yields is not enough, though. Data provided by the World Bank shows that 65 percent of poor working adults make a living through agriculture.

Technology companies such as FarmView are working to solve the global food crisis by improving the agricultural yield of various stable crops. Sorghum is a valuable cereal crop in developing countries, India, Nigeria and Ethiopia in particular, that could be cultivated more efficiently with the help of AI. The highly sophisticated and selective crop breeding that exists in the U.S., with valuable foods like corn, does not exist in developing countries.

FarmView utilizes AI and four-wheeled robots to drive through fields to measure everything from potential signs of disease to plant color, shape and size in order to give poor farmers the “information they need to cultivate the most nutritionally-packed crop of sorghum possible for their environment —at the highest possible yield.”

These are some examples of the ways AI is making the world a better place not just for the affluent but for those in need, too. While advancements in AI technology will no doubt present us with moral, ethical and socio-economic challenges, it is also one of the most promising tools to end extreme poverty and stimulate economic growth. Using AI to fight poverty can once and for all help bring an end to what is widely considered the greatest challenge facing mankind.

– Johnny Harounoff

Photo: Pixabay

Indian farmers use AIIndia is an agrarian economy and over 58 percent of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. With the recent help of tech giant Microsoft, Indian farmers have begun to use AI to increase efficiency, further encouraging them to harvest a good crop.

Every year since 2013, more than 12,000 suicides have been reported in the agricultural sector with 10 percent accounting for farmer suicides. Collectively, seven states (Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Naidu) accounted for 87.5 percent of the total suicides in the farming sector. Additionally, the reasons for farmers’ suicides have varied widely including high input costs, low yields, disintegration with markets, mounting loans, water crisis and urban consumer-driven economic policies.

In partnership with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Microsoft developed an AI-sowing app. With the app, Indian farmers use AI to increase their agricultural income, giving them greater price control over their crop yields.

On his two-day visit to India in 2017, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlighted the benefits of AI in agriculture. In an interaction with Microsoft engineers in India, Nadella said, “Taking AI to the oldest industry on our planet, agriculture, is something we have already been doing in collaboration with local stakeholders like ICRISAT, which just at a little distance away from the campus. If you can increase the yield [with the help of AI] in agriculture, the kind of impact it will have on economies like India will be huge.”

The beta version of the new sowing application was tested in June 2016 in Kurnool district of the Indian state Andhra Pradesh and was applied only to the groundnut crop. The results showed a 30 percent higher average in yield per hectare. The pilot also confirmed that the advisories received through the app via SMS were relevant and accurate. The sowing app provides the best times to sow depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators, relieving Indian farmers from inaccurate forecasts.

The app relies on business intelligence tools that give clear insights on the soil health, fertilizer recommendations and seven-day weather forecasts powered by the world’s best available weather observation systems and global forecast models.  So far, Indian farmers use AI-powered apps in a few dozen villages in Telangana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Powered by Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite, the app provides updates to Indian farmers. Indian farmers use AI for sowing recommendation, seed treatment, optimum sowing depth, preventive weed management, land preparation, farmyard manure application, recommendation on harvesting, shade drying of harvested pods and storage. The SMSs can also be delivered in regional languages like Telugu and Kannada. Through a basic phone capable of receiving text messages, farmers can use AI with no capital expenditure.

Microsoft’s next collaboration could help farmers fight pest risk. In collaboration with India’s largest producer of agrochemicals, United Phosphorous (UPL), Microsoft aims at leveraging AI and machine learning to calculate the risk of pest attack.

But interestingly, Indian farmers are not oblivious to digital farming. In the past, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Innovation Labs introduced mKrishi, which allowed farmers to receive advice on pest information, crop prices, weather conditions and more in their local languages.

Tech innovations and partnerships like that of Microsoft and TCS could help Indian farmers with information that is more data-driven and based on pure analytics. Whether such efforts lower the suicidal rates of Indian farmers or not is yet to be seen. But if the results are positive, it will be a boon to many agriculturally reliant Indian households that have faced huge losses.

– Deena Zaidi

Photo: Flickr