No technology is inherently good or bad; rather, it is humanity’s use of that technology that can be evil or virtuous. Certain modern tools seem only capable of carrying out despicable or ultimately evil deeds as controversy surrounds them, and their names evoke fear. Artificial intelligence (AI) and drones are two of the most widely commented on and feared applications of modern science. Despite the prevailing negative perceptions, AI and drones are also used for a good cause: combatting poverty.
Although drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), are often used in violent attacks and warfare, they and their human operators are doing wonderful things across the world. Photographer Jonny Miller used drones to capture cityscapes and the line dividing the rich and the poor. He captured images of lush, green golf courses directly up against dirt roads and shack neighborhoods. Giant mansions can be seen with trees and acres of grass next door to brown areas with buildings packed into a small plot. Miller’s project “Unequal Scenes” is raising awareness about poverty and inequality which would be impossible without drone photography.
The Problem of Land Ownership
More than half of the world’s population, usually women, cannot prove that they own their land. This is especially problematic in the country of Kosovo, where most of the men and boys were murdered during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The women who remained have worked tirelessly to rebuild their homes and communities, but they face an enormous roadblock: the 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 was repeatedly turned down because she lacked what the government called “property documents to put down as a guarantee.”
These communities do not have the means to hire land surveyors necessary for official registration. Property owners with potentially good, profitable land are powerless without official documentation. However, drones are helping these women. The World Bank Group’s Global Land and Geospatial unit dispatches drones to map out land plots. Drones survey and map for a fraction of the cost of traditional means, giving the Kosovan women the ability to register their lands and ultimately invest in their own property.
The Positive Impacts of AI
Artificial intelligence (AI, also referred to as “machine learning”) refers to a machine’s ability to imitate intelligent human behavior. AI is often associated with 1980s movies about robots destroying humanity based on a real fear that one day the 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 apparent destructive potential of AI, it is currently transforming agriculture and changing the African business environment in the real world.
One writer 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 a Moroccan company which uses AI to perform analytics on data sent from devices on motorcycle helmets. This improves riding habits and provides more accurate insurance premiums, reducing costs and improving safety for riders. Another instance involves an Egyptian manufacturer using AI to automate certain processes and reduce overall error while improving quality of service, which ultimately reduces the cost to the consumer. Finally, one Algerian firm helps local doctors provide cancer detection and treatment for their patients. The firm uses AI to create models that can diagnose those who are unable to visit hospitals for formal examinations. This has the potential to save the lives of many who don’t have the means to get regular checkups and screenings.
In addition to previous models, AI is also reducing overall costs for farmers and helping to improve their yields in India. Certain Indian dairy cows are given radio-frequency identification tags that transmit important information about the cows’ diets and overall health to cloud storage where it is “AI-analyzed.” The farmers receive alerts about any potential issues of the cows that require their attention. This can reduce costs and increase efficiency for the farmers.
These are just some of the ways that technology often labeled as “bad” is being used for good, especially in the fight against poverty. Cases like these prove that technology cannot be inherently evil and that there are good uses for AI and drones. While some individuals use modern equipment to destroy the world, there are plenty of men and women using the same tools to improve it.
– Sarah Stanley