Technology has been a lifesaver in developing countries during COVID-19, helping to maintain essential services and keep companies in business as the world went completely online. It has also offered a glimpse of a brighter future, one in which income gains and employment are driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).
The economic challenges brought on by COVID-19 and more recently, the war in Ukraine, have resulted in a marked slowdown across the globe. It is estimated that almost 7% of the world’s population will still be living on less than $2.15 a day in 2030, with most in Africa. The need to embrace innovative technologies such as AI could not have arrived at a better time.
Artificial intelligence combines large volumes of data with computing power to simulate human cognitive abilities such as reasoning, language, perception, vision and spatial processing.
The World Bank finances public projects and programs, providing technical advice and analysis, managing financial risk,and financing private sector investments to help countries share and apply innovative knowledge and solutions to the challenges they face. The World Bank leverages AI through multiple avenues, empowering private sectors and governments, to uplift the lives of people in developing nations.
Reducing Poverty and Boosting Shared Prosperity in FinTech
The World Bank leverages AI to address the financial needs of the unserved and the underserved, by empowering companies generating products and services such as credit scoring and targeted advertisements. Companies in Africa such as M-Shwari and M-Kajy are early examples of AI delivering financial services to the poorest.
Predicting and Fighting Poverty with Data
With more than 3.5 billion mobile subscribers in developing countries and thousands of satellites in Earth’s orbit, collecting data to predict poverty and vulnerability is within the reach of scientists, researchers and policymakers. The socio-economic status of an individual can be inferred using past history of mobile phone usage. In resource-constrained environments where censuses and household surveys are rare, this approach creates an option for gathering localized and timely information cost-effectively, with machine learning (ML) opening the possibility of using new data sources to measure poverty and vulnerability.
AI in Agriculture
AI-as-a-service solutions have been gaining popularity in recent years. A machine learning app, Nuru, has been used on farms in Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania to identify leaf damage in photos and send information to help monitor the presence of an invasive pest that threatens farm revenue and food security across East Africa.
AI in the Energy Sector
In Africa, 600 million people (53% of the total population) live without electricity, with conditions exacerbated in the sub-Saharan region. However, the continent has abundant solar, wind and bioenergy resources. Azuri Technologies has developed a solar-powered, innovative, pay-as-you-go model for 12 countries across Africa. The service utilizes AI to optimize power consumption — it learns home energy needs and adjusts power output accordingly by automatically dimming lights, slowing fans or managing how quickly devices are charged.
Barriers to Economic Growth
The lack of AI expertise and insufficient data often increase the cost of implementing AI solutions in low-income countries. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, is the largest global development institution focused exclusively on the private sector in developing countries.
Through venture capital investments and investments in online educational platforms, local communities are empowered to take advantage of this technology to improve skills and gain access to AI-related solutions. However, private sectors cannot operate alone in emerging markets. Government support in establishing data and infrastructure, open access and regulatory governance to protect privacy and security are needed to aid the private sector specializing in AI solutions.
The World Bank Leverages AI Through Policy Mandates, Global Research and Training
Measuring AI Development is aided by Development Economics Analytics & Tools (DECAT), a prime research arm at the World Bank. The role of DECAT is to promote a global understanding of development policies and programs through analytical insights and recommendations.
The Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) at UC Berkeley and DECAT partner and hold annual conferences on key topics, including the role of mobile data in global development research, emerging data and methods in global health research as data, infrastructure and governance hold the keys to enabling poor countries to embrace AI for economic growth in the coming years.
The World Bank has launched the AI for Development initiative and an Artificial Intelligence Lab. Through skills-building workshops and training programs on big data, AI and decision science, these programs work to enhance the skill sets of decision-makers with tools that rely on these technologies.
The UN’s AI for Good Global Summit 2023, a conglomeration of subject matter experts from tech giants, international universities and organizations, calls for innovative ways to make AI useful in addressing global issues.
Artificial Intelligence is Here to Stay
While the gaps in governance, data and infrastructure are key factors that need to be addressed on the global stage, the World Bank leverages AI in innovative ways to demonstrate the good the technology could bring to low-income communities.
– Sudha Krishnaswami