Limited access to healthcare is a challenge that millions of people face globally. According to data collected by the World Bank and W.H.O., roughly half of the global population had no way to access necessary health services in December 2017. The high costs of getting healthcare forced nearly 100 million people into poverty that year. For hundreds of millions of people across the world, even basic healthcare is economically out of reach. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put additional strain on healthcare systems around the globe. The pandemic has disrupted medicine supply chains in many parts of the world, preventing vital medical supplies from reaching hospitals in a timely manner. This is particularly dangerous for developing countries with healthcare systems that were already struggling to meet their countries’ needs. However, recent technological innovations like BraineHealth are seeking to revolutionize healthcare to overcome these issues.

How BraineHealth Can Help

This problem may seem insurmountable, but not to BraineHealth. The Swedish company is hoping to use artificial intelligence and robotics to make healthcare more accessible for people throughout the world. BraineHealth’s healthcare innovations can apply many areas of healthcare, such as primary healthcare, senior healthcare and mental health services. In all these areas, BraineHealth hopes to connect doctors and other medical professionals with their patients in a way that is easy, affordable and safe.

With BraineHealth’s system, patients could potentially receive diagnoses and expert medical consultations without having to leave their homes. This would reduce medical costs and travel expenses for patients, and it would provide a safer alternative to in-person appointments. Here are four BraineHealth programs that seek to revolutionize healthcare.

4 BraineHealth Programs Revolutionizing Healthcare

  1. Artificial Intelligence: BraineHealth is developing an AI program that will allow for quicker and more efficient remote diagnoses. This program receives information about a patient’s symptoms provided by the patient and analyzes this report. By examining it against a database of thousands of documented diagnoses, the algorithm can provide as accurate a diagnosis as possible.
  2. Diabetio: This program combines social robotics and artificial intelligence to assist diabetic patients with managing their diabetes. The Diabetio robot will help manage the patient’s carbohydrate intake, and it will keep the patient informed about whether they are at risk of developing diabetes. To help the patient most efficiently, this program will retain and process information about the patient’s daily activities.
  3. Medipacker: BraineHealth is also looking to revolutionize healthcare by expanding access to medical information and education through its Medipacker education program. This program aims to give backpackers the opportunity to become qualified first-aid providers at little to no cost. By removing economic barriers to first-aid education, BraineHealth hopes to encourage more people around the world to learn about emergency medicine.
  4. InEmpathy: Recently, BraineHealth has partnered with the charity InEmpathy. InEmpathy’s work focuses on building better systems of healthcare in developing countries. Crucially, this organization is now helping to bring BraineHealth’s technological innovations to communities in need. BraineHealth will therefore be able to adapt its technologies to best fit the needs of their destination countries.

Looking to the Future

Millions worldwide lack adequate access to healthcare. Even in areas that have hospitals, the costs of health services are often too high for poor communities. Using technological innovation, BraineHealth is working to revolutionize healthcare so that the people in these communities can have access to healthcare that would otherwise be out of reach.

Marshall Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Artificial Intelligence and Disaster ResponseNatural disasters are a phenomenon that affects countries around the world. The World Health Organization reports that more than 160 million people are affected by natural disasters annually. Estimates from the World Bank also suggest that 26 million people are forced below the poverty line annually due to natural disasters. Technological advancements with artificial intelligence (AI) aiding natural disasters may help countries with their response to such catastrophic events and help reduce these detrimental effects.

Natural Disasters Contributing to Poverty

Across the globe, poorer communities are more negatively affected by natural disasters than wealthier communities. Natural disasters have the potential to cause a major loss of income due to damage to infrastructure, crops, or a decrease in demand and tourism. This loss of income is more significant for those in the low-income category as they have fewer resources to begin the rebuilding process, potentially causing long-term poverty.

History shows that major natural disasters widen income inequalities. After the 2011 floods in Australia, low-income individuals lost an average of $3,100 AUD ($2,141 USD) per year. This lower income was typically maintained for five years after the natural disaster. Contrastingly, middle and high-income individuals gained over $3,300 AUD ($2,280 USD) annually for those five years. This was because emergency aid was more oriented to businesses rather than households, and the wealthy are more likely to own businesses. This example illustrates how low-income individuals are more vulnerable to being pushed into poverty due to a natural disaster.

The U.N. reports that, globally, the largest loss of life due to natural disasters occurs in poor communities. This may be a result of the fact that low-income individuals tend to live in geographical areas that are more prone to natural disasters. Additionally, those who are low-income tend to live in poorly constructed, fragile housing. This was observed in 2010 when an earthquake hit Haiti, where the largest loss of life was in a fragile and over-crowded housing facility, located in a poor community.

Artificial Intelligence Improving Disaster Response

AI is skilled at analyzing and tracking weather patterns to help predict the course and severity of natural disasters. However, technology has previously struggled to accurately predict earthquakes. Geophysicist Paul Johnson has assembled a team to use machine learning to predict these natural disasters. Machine learning uses technology to track data and identify similarities and patterns that occur prior to an earthquake. AI technology will then be able to analyze these characteristics to preemptively detect earthquakes. Johnson’s team has successfully used AI to predict earthquakes in a controlled laboratory setting. This technology would allow the opportunity for civilians to evacuate prior to an earthquake, decreasing injury and loss of life.

The application of this technology will resultingly allow for improved personnel and resource management once the natural disaster is detected. AI technology can now use geospatial observations to identify locations where people may move to during the natural disaster. This will allow officials to accurately complete rescue missions and send supplies to people who have relocated.

This technology will also help model which areas will be most affected by a natural disaster. AI can predict which buildings and roads will sustain the most damage throughout the disaster. This knowledge allows officials to re-route resources and response personnel to more appropriate areas. AI modeling will result in faster response times and more strategic access to affected areas.

McKinsey and Co. is an organization that uses technology to aid disaster relief efforts as a part of its Change That Matters initiative. McKinsey and Company’s AI uses satellite data and an algorithm to assess the damages sustained to a certain area. This allows for the responsible distribution of resources to help rebuild vital community services such as schools and medical facilities.

AI and Poverty Relief

AI is a tool that can be applied to many areas of life. The use of technology and AI is crucial in predicting natural disasters and improving aid responses after the disaster. These abilities and their effects lead AI to have the potential to play a major role in decreasing the number of people who are forced into poverty due to natural disasters.

– Laura Embry
Photo: Pixabay 

BlueDot, a Canadian artificial intelligence company, alerted its customers of an outbreak more than a week before the WHO notified the public of the COVID-19 outbreak. The company uses programs driven by artificial intelligence to analyze large amounts of information with the goal of discovering disease outbreaks. This company – and many others like it – could be key in helping thousands of people navigate COVID-19.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science focused on intelligence displayed by machines. There are both pros and cons associated with the development of artificial intelligence. However, with the possibility of COVID-19 pushing 50 million more people into poor households in 2020, many countries are doing everything they can to harness this developing technology.

Artificial Intelligence, COVID-19 and Poverty

People in impoverished communities are facing a serious dilemma: should they continue to work and potentially catch COVID-19 or stay home and face hunger or malnutrition?

There is currently no vaccine for the virus, and lockdowns and social distancing measures are effective but economically harmful. Most people in poverty do not have the financial savings to support themselves. Similarly, restrictions have the potential to push already unstable economies in less developed countries into a recession. Fortunately, artificial intelligence is providing new ways to support people in such challenging times.

4 Ways Artificial Intelligence Can Help Impoverished Communities During COVID-19

  1. Satellite images and phone data are assisting in identifying communities in need of financial assistance. Policymakers in Togo, a West African nation, teamed up with UC Berkeley to find ways to use satellite images and phone data to identify the country’s most impoverished communities and provide aid. A similar program is already in use in various African countries. The NGO GiveDirectly partnered with a local phone company to give governmental assistance to subscribers who live in impoverished communities. The government contacts citizens and offers them a cash transfer. In March alone, GiveDirectly made payments totaling over $2.5 million to 13,806 recipients.
  2. The technology could help researchers analyze COVID-19 data and make clinical decisions. A doctor from Kashmir is using artificial intelligence to detect patterns in large amounts of COVID-19 data. Currently, there is an overwhelming influx of public health data surfacing. In addition, with the virus’s potential to push more people into poverty, there is a need to analyze and evaluate the data quickly. The doctor is also working with local professionals to discover innovative ways to provide healthcare in the country.
  3. Developing countries have started using artificial intelligence for surveillance and social control. Nations like Ecuador, Kenya, Peru and South Africa are using surveillance technologies to ensure citizens are using social distancing measures. South Africa implemented a “real-time contact tracing and communication system.” The software used to create the system was originally intended to detect rhinoceros poaching hotspots in national parks.
  4. Artificial intelligence makes it possible to accurately screen many people at a time from a distance. China has used the technology to install distanced fever-screening systems in railway and subway stations. Beijing’s Qinghe Railway Station houses one of the systems, which can “examine up to 200 people in one minute without disrupting passenger flow.” Many developing countries are densely packed, and many people in those countries have poor access to healthcare. Screening large numbers of people in a short period of time can have a positive impact on the fight against COVID-19 in developing countries.

The race to harness artificial intelligence is on around the globe. Artificial intelligence has the potential not only to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19 on developing countries but around the world. The public database Kaggle is sponsoring the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge. Its hope is that experts around the world will come together to find new ways to use artificial intelligence techniques. Ultimately, this will produce new insights to assist in the global fight against COVID-19.

Araceli Mercer
Photo: Flickr

AI Tutoring in Africa
With AI technology exploding as a form of aid and disaster relief in developing countries, innovative ways to de-escalate education poverty are underway in Africa’s most vulnerable regions. One of the most prominent issues affecting impoverished African societies is a lack of education. In 2014, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published a report stating that “more than 7 in 10 African countries don’t have enough teachers.”Accompanied by a rising population of children who need schooling, Africa as a whole has an 86.1 pupil to qualified teacher ratio. With poverty rife throughout the continent and education prioritized for young children, Africa will require an estimated 17 million teachers by 2030, yet the means to find and educate qualified adults to teach is lacking. So where does AI technology come into play? Two major companies, Daptio and Eneza, are closing the gaps with computer programs and adaptive learning to make AI tutoring in Africa a widespread resource.

Daptio

After realizing that the University of South Africa only had a 15% annual pass rate, Daptio founder Tabitha Bailey saw a need for full-scale reform. With no human teachers available, Bailey looked to “cloud-based adaptive learning,” an AI classroom software that adapts to the needs of an individual student – almost like the Khan Academy of Africa.

Bailey launched Daptio in 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa. Described by its founder as “the first content agnostic adaptive learning platform in Africa,” Daptio is also unique in its partnerships with content creators that provide the learning tools for South African students. Daptio is not just an online learning platform; rather, the software learns the education level and knowledge of the student and gathers content from various creators to best accommodate the student.

The platform is largely structured on video learning, with individual sections for students, teachers and content creators. It also adapts to students who do not have access to stable data connectivity to watch videos.

Eneza and TeachMobile

Based out of Ghana, AI tutoring software Eneza Education has developed a web-based education program that provides on-call teachers for students online. Individual teachers operate TeachMobile but receive aid from AI in similarly assessment-based computer programming. The software is complete with learning materials and lessons for any teachers to access, and the platform similarly assesses a student’s abilities so that it can tailor coursework to their needs.

TeachMobile is also unique in its availability to students. With only one physical teacher available for approximately 86 African students, on-call virtual teachers are available via chat through an Ask-A-Teacher setting. The software is also useful for teachers to connect and share resources with each other via social messaging.

After laying its footing in Ghana, Eneza and TechMobile have expanded to Kenya and the Ivory Coast with plans to keep growing. Over 6 million people have used Eneza since its beginnings, and Eneza’s programs have shown a “23 percent improvement in academic performance after learning with Eneza Education for nine months.”

Effectiveness and Future Plans

Extensive research and study of Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITSs) and AI tutoring at the University of Michigan have shown that computer-based, adaptive learning is highly effective. With more patience and time than a normal human teacher, the ITSs can be beneficial to both students and teachers and can more accurately gauge a student’s individual needs.

For now, AI tutoring in Africa is still in its infancy. However, with the beneficial track record of web-based learning laying the foundation for children across the continent, AI tutoring in Africa can hopefully assist in bringing advanced education to impoverished communities across the continent.

– Grace Ganz
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Health Technology in India
With India’s population nearing 1.4 billion, its health care system must be equipped to meet the needs of its people. The health care industry has struggled to keep up with the burden of disease and various health issues in the country, but has significantly expanded its reach in recent years, facilitated by almost doubling the investment in health technology in India. Some of the health challenges that India faces include inequalities resulting from access issues and inadequate resources.

The Ayushman Bharat program, launched in 2018 by the government, has aimed to move toward comprehensive health care with the end goal of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Included in this program is the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), the largest health insurance program globally. The health coverage provided by PM-JAY targets the poorest 40% of the Indian population. This health insurance plan is cashless and paperless, with all information accessible from IT platforms. These improvements have grown the Indian health care industry, which is expected to be worth $372 billion by 2022. Here are other ways health care in India can be improved by technology.

Telemedicine and Disease Mapping

Investment in health technology in India can help address issues such as access gaps, the shortage of health workers and low doctor-to-patient ratios. Smartphones and online programs, such as messaging services, are being used to facilitate communication between doctors and patients, tackling geographical barriers to access to doctors and allowing easier access to consults, appointments and medical information.

Disease mapping is another aspect of health technology in India that is crucial to gaining an understanding of the largest health issues in various geographical areas and providing a visual representation of health disparities across the country. The Centre for Global Health Research (CGHR), founded in 2002, is co-sponsored by the University of Toronto and Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital. CGHR does epidemiological research for the world’s poorest population. In addition to conducting many studies in India, the CGHR has created an interactive health map of the country to aid government and health officials.

Medical Databases

Online databases improve access to health data for both patients and doctors. This allows patients to receive medical information and data from home. Doctors can also monitor their patients if they are traveling or if they are helping patients in a different region. Many companies including Microsoft, Google and Amazon have made cloud services available to health care providers. Public as well as private sector health providers have increasingly been using these features.

In addition to generally improving the flow and accessibility of health information, clouds and databases increase the efficiency of health workers. Through these aspects of health technology in India, hospitals can consolidate data, and patient transfers and referrals become more organized. Using databases can also improve diagnoses and treatments by allowing doctors to easily access previous cases to inform their decisions regarding new patients.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The Indian health care system is increasingly using more artificial intelligence. The aging population and growing rates of non-communicable diseases have resulted in a demand for technology that can help predict diagnoses and future health challenges in patients. AI and machine learning (ML) include algorithms that find patterns in large amounts of data.

These technologies allow doctors to benefit from thousands of patient cases and information that help in identifying trends. Doctors are then able to make more informed diagnoses for new patients and create effective treatment plans. By analyzing patient data, AI programs can help diagnose patients earlier than would otherwise be possible. They can also help identify patients that might be more vulnerable to certain conditions. This also increases the effectiveness of disease prevention programs.

The use of AI in health care also has the potential to improve doctors’ understanding of what risk factors contribute to disease. Heart disease and cardiac issues have become a leading cause of death in India and doctors hope to use AI to analyze data and gain understanding about the factors contributing to the trend.

Furthermore, AI has the potential to increase the affordability of health care. While increasing the use of health technology in India will initially be expensive, the costs will eventually diminish. The processes will become more streamlined and focused on each patient, improving overall efficiency and decreasing costs. Investing in technologies such as AI can also help make up for the lacking resources and increase the efficiency with which resources are used by improving the accuracy of diagnoses and treatment.

 

While health disparities in India are very pronounced, the increased use of health technology in India is promising and could potentially decrease the level of health inequity. Various uses of health technology can minimize the consequences of health worker and doctor shortages, facilitate access to medical services and information and improve doctors’ understanding of medical trends and social factors relating to health.

– Maia Cullen
Photo: Flickr

Technovation Empowers Kids to Fight Global Poverty
Technovation is a global tech education nonprofit dedicated to empowering underrepresented groups by giving them the opportunity to create, lead and problem solve. The organization does this through its programs called Technovation Girls and Technovation Families that allow children and families to solve problems within their own communities through technology and innovation. Through these programs, Technovation empowers kids to fight global poverty.

Technovation Families

The organization’s family program collaborates with schools, mentors and families to work on creative artificial intelligence projects. These projects address real-world issues in their communities. The program is open to everyone and is completely free to children and families. Since 2006, more than 80,000 families around the world have participated in the program’s design challenges.

Technovation Families includes 10 lessons that teach families how to solve a problem in their community using artificial intelligence (AI). At the end of the lessons, families have the opportunity to submit their idea to the AI World Championship. The program encourages the collaboration of children and their families to change the world through technology.

Technovation Girls

Along with its family program, Technovation empowers kids to fight global poverty through Technovation Girls. The program works with girls ages 10-18, influencing them to become leaders and entrepreneurs within the tech industry. Through volunteer mentorships, girls in the program form teams and create mobile apps that address issues in their communities. These apps have helped tackle issues such as domestic violence and climate change.

Technovation Girls has empowered over 130,000 girls, children and parents to improve their communities through coding and artificial intelligence. Since the organization’s start, 7,000 mobile apps and AI prototypes have emerged and over 14,000 mentors have supported underrepresented populations. Apps such as FD-Detector, Eedo and Handsout have significantly impacted local communities.

FD-Detector

In 2018, Team Save-A-Soul, a group of five teenage girls from Nigeria, won the Technovation Challenge with their app, FD-Detector, which can detect counterfeit medicine. Before working with Technovation, the teens had a limited amount of knowledge on technology. However, through mentorship and education, they were able to make their innovative app come to life. The app helps customers and health care workers verify a drug’s authenticity and expiration date, which could mean life or death for a patient. In Nigeria, the sale of counterfeit drugs is a widespread issue. Team Save-A-Soul is raising awareness for counterfeit drugs and protecting people from harm.

Eedo

Another 2018 winner in the senior division was Team Cantavits, with its app Eedo. Eedo is an app that reduces electronic waste in India by connecting e-waste producers to authorized recyclers. Electronic waste can have damaging effects on the environment. By providing a resource for waste management and highlighting the harmful effects it can have on the environment, Team Cantavits has positively impacted its community.

Handsout

Brain Squad, another team from Nigeria, created an app called Handsout that helps more children go to school. The app, winning the 2019 People’s Choice award at the Technovation competition, gives people from all over the world the opportunity to donate to Nigerian children and their families. The donations cover school fees, supplies and medication.

Technovation empowers kids to fight global poverty through innovation and creativity. Its programs not only combat global poverty through the apps and technology it has created but through the cultivation of learning and collaboration to create a better future for impoverished populations.

Megan McKeough
Photo: Flickr

Artificial Intelligence is Helping Developing Countries
Developing countries often suffer from a lack of good teachers and schools. As a result, they frequently do not have very good academic standing and their people are less educated. With this lack of learning and cultivation comes a worse economy as well. The developing world needs to find a way to academically catch up with the developed world. Not only is it lacking in educational resources, but health care is a problem as well. Medical professionals are rarely available, especially in places further from the city. Individual appointments use up human resources fast, leaving others with no help. Even things like farming are getting to be more difficult. With the changing climate, farmers cannot use traditional farming cycles and predictions to determine the best time to plant their crops. Luckily, artificial intelligence is helping developing countries tackle some of their present challenges.

 Artificial Intelligence Can Make a Difference

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can solve many of the problems that developing countries face. Not only can it do more than a human, but it can also learn and adapt as it goes. AI takes the data it receives and uses it in the way it is told but also finds ways to optimize the process. The more that people use artificial intelligence, the more it improves.

Disaster Relief

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs used a system called Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response (AIDR) to gather all information about the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and its damage, emergency needs and disaster response. AIDR was able to pinpoint the location of actual and potential victims and determine which workers were available. Artificial intelligence can also create digital maps of the area to identify which places need the most assistance. It is able to identify humanitarian aid needs automatically and sort any given data into different categories, such as infrastructure damage, urgent needs and response efforts. Based on this categorization and captured data, available responders could quickly focus their efforts and supplies on the right places.

Tutoring

Artificial intelligence is helping developing countries because it has the power to bring education to those who formerly never dreamed of accessing it. With over 750 million adults unable to read and write, most of them in developing countries, AI could enact big change in their lives. Currently, there are two large learning platforms that utilize artificial intelligence in Africa: Daptio and Eneza Education. Daptio helps students to study remotely. It gathers data on the student, such as their strengths and weaknesses, and adjusts its curriculum accordingly. Eneza Education is a mobile learning platform that gives lessons and assessments to over 860,000 subscribers. Students receive these through web communication or SMS messages. It has quizzes, offline access to Wikipedia, a dictionary and its own feature where users can “Ask-A-Teacher” questions live.

Improving Crop Production

The AI Sowing App, made by Microsoft and the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), pinpoints the best time to plant seeds, prepare land and use fertilizer. It also has a function that finds the moisture adequacy index, both in real-time and the future. The app works by gathering data from past climate trends, usually around a couple of decades, and applies it to the present. AI can also assist in weeding; Harvest CROO Robotics created a device that can analyze each plant individually and determine whether it needs pesticides or not, greatly saving on pesticides and their costs.

Improving Health Care and Hastening Economic Development

AI can perform accurate diagnoses, give treatment plans and predict disease outbreak. This saves on human resources and gives those that live farther from civilization the same access to medical care. It can also make basic health care cheaper for those who cannot afford to travel to an actual doctor for medical attention. As for economic development, with AI taking care of menial labor like factory work and educating the public, humans will be able to focus on doing more complicated jobs like working as entrepreneurs or engineers.

Although many developing nations suffer from poor education, lack of health care and economies, artificial intelligence is helping developing countries solve many of these problems. From disaster relief and education to improving crop production and providing medical assistance, artificial intelligence applications have the potential to greatly improve the lives of countless individuals within the developing world.

Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Flickr

How AI Could Reshape Education in India
India has the largest K-12 educational system in the world with 260 million students. However, it still ranks low globally on academic achievement and student performance. Nearly half of students lack basic literacy and math skills after studying in school for five years. However, the rise of new classroom technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), shows promising hope for rural communities seeking to improve student success. Here is how AI could reshape education in India.

The Challenges

Thirty-eight percent of government public school students in grade three are unable to read simple words. Only 27 percent of students could perform double-digit subtraction. Teacher preparedness and competency is also a reported issue. In one study, only 11 percent of government school teachers in the Indian state of Bihar could demonstrate the steps by which to solve a three-digit by one-digit division problem.

Surprisingly, a survey through the Center for Global Development has found no significant correlation between high teacher salaries and achievement in India. After evaluating per capita GDP and economic context, Indian teachers receive relatively good pay. Nevertheless, reports determined that low-cost private schools had similar learning levels where teachers received significantly less pay. The results highlight the need for more highly trained teachers and better professional preparedness programs.

Notwithstanding these educational challenges, early evidence shows a number of adaptive AI programs offer promise in mitigating the educational deficits in poor educational communities and schools. Oftentimes, these programs supplement the traditional curriculum and even absent teachers. This is how AI could reshape education in India.

How AI Could Reshape Education in India

  1. Mindspark: Mindspark is an adaptable Indian AI program that adjusts to a learner’s knowledge and skills. As the student progresses, it introduces more challenging concepts. The software includes text, video, games and interactive tutorials that people can access on multiple devices. Proponents of Mindspark have remarked that although AI may not be the best educational solution for countries that already have an effective education infrastructure, it has shown to raise scores for areas that experience teacher shortages or absenteeism. MIT’s randomized study in Delhi of 619 government school students found that students progressed significantly in math and Hindi after using the Mindspark software. Priced at approximately RS 1,000 per month ($14 per month), it is a cost-effective program for students.
  2. Byju’s: Named after its founder, Byju Raveendran, Byju’s is an Indian learning app. Similar to Mindspark, the program’s AI adapts to student users to create personal learning experiences, a mapped syllabus, interactive tests, recommended videos in response to mistakes, interactive questions, quizzes, games and interactive lessons. The program uses a bank of student data on learning patterns to personalize feedback and assessments. Although innovative and fun, the company currently only markets adaptive software to urban families looking to supplement their child’s education with a new delivery method. Forbes India recognizes that while the model receives good funding through venture capital, greater access to Byju’s AI for poorer communities through government and nonprofit investments would be advantageous to the country.
  3. Onebillion: Onebillion is a U.K. education nonprofit that created a modular course for children designed to improve their writing, reading and numeracy. It includes carefully structured courses with a huge bank of activities, games and stories adapted into many different languages. It includes a digital teacher who offers individualized, weekly diagnostic tests to ensure the addressing of learning gaps. Teachers can monitor student progress through the system as well. It is for students who have little or no access to formal schooling. The organization incorporates a localization process that keeps the content relevant by partnering with local communities and experts. Like Mindspark, the aim of the organization is to get the software directly into the hands of the student who lacks formal educational mentors. Onebillion has reached more than 100,000 students globally, including students in rural India in 2016.

The Future for India’s Education

What is evident thus far, especially from the implementation of Mindspark, is that AI has the potential to address gaps in education in India for poor, rural communities that lack high-quality teachers and programs. Access to effective tools is currently in favor of wealthier communities in India. Forbes India opines that more investment from the government, nonprofits and companies is necessary to expand the influence of these new technologies into the communities that need them. India, which already has one of the world’s largest software industries and telecommunications systems, may prove how AI could reshape education in India with investments in education technology.

Caleb Cummings
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Unconventional Education ProvidersPoor infrastructure contributes to the fact that one in five children around the world lacks access to quality basic education. In general, supporting basic education in specific regions requires a massive increase in basic infrastructure, teaching staff and educational supplies. In Turkey, the gap between the demand for education funding for Syrian refugee children and the actual amount received reached 43 percent. Due to conflict in the region, 70 percent of children are out of school. With so much content created and shared online, the internet now is a reservoir of knowledge. These unconventional education providers are trying to bring education to struggling areas through technology.

Unconventional Education Providers

Internet companies dominate online resources and access. Companies such as Microsoft and Google frequently cooperate with non-profit organizations for philanthropic purposes. The primary goal for many of these organizations is to offer accessible education through innovative solutions. Google, for example, made a five-year, $1 billion commitment to improve access to education through partnerships. In particular, Google contributed $5 million to Learning Equality and its offline educational platform Kolibri as a way to promote an innovative way of providing primary education.

Funded by Google, Kolibri is a free education solution that includes both device and content for users who have limited internet access. Content like KA Lite has been installed in 200 countries and reached 4.5 million learners. Besides the widely spreading installations, training personnel in these regions is another major objective for this unconventional education provider. Kolibri project inspired the implementation of a similar platform in Jordan where 10 learning hubs trained 40 Syrian refugees to be Kolibri coaches or coordinators within 10 days.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence provides internet companies with a distinct method in their mission to reduce poverty. In 2018, Microsoft initiated AI for Humanitarian Action, a five-year program funded with $40 million that applies artificial intelligence in poverty-related issues. Artificial intelligence can help NGOs in disaster response, childcare and education, the livelihoods of refugees and human rights.

Companies are working on ways to make AI even more efficient. In many impoverished areas, there is a shortage of qualified teachers. As AI continues to develop and improve, it will be able to perform more complex grading tasks. Companies are already working on translation software to offer more content to children in a variety of languages.

Women in Coding

Women suffer from gender inequality all around the world, but more so in impoverished regions. One of the ways to combat this is through acquiring an education. Some unconventional education providers are giving these women a way out of poverty through learning how to code. The nonprofit STEMbees is giving women and girls in Africa the chance to learn to code. In Lagos, Nairobi and Kampala, women engineers make up 30 percent of their total employment.

In short, via funding or technological support to other non-profit organizations, internet companies have become unconventional education providers. The technology they are developing gives impoverished people access to more knowledge at a lower cost. With so many connected online, it may be a good time to start thinking about how to use the internet to help to fight poverty.

Dingnan Zhang
Photo: Prlog.org

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