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The Top 5 Health Tech Companies in SpainThe world of health technology has been growing exponentially in the last decade and continues to grow, especially with the novel coronavirus still affecting the world. One of the most prominent locations for health technology is in Spain. The industry has a large quantity of health tech company startups in Spain; high-quality companies are making new drug discoveries for treatments and creating virtual therapies that can help those in impoverished areas receive the medical care they need. Here are the top five health tech companies making strides in Spain.

The Top 5 Health Tech Companies in Spain

  1. Elma Care is an app that combines comprehensive health insurance with remote medical consultations. This great new resource emerged in Barcelona, Spain, in 2017. Elma Care is one of the top five health tech companies in Spain because the app keeps all of a patient’s medical information in one place, allows consultation with primary care physicians remotely and offers tools like preventative medicine plans to help people access healthcare with more ease and efficiency. All of this is possible from the comfort and safety of the home, allowing for social distancing during the current global pandemic.
  2. Devicare is a specialty biotech company that focuses on chronic diseases. The company, founded in Barcelona, Spain, strives to develop solutions for the treatment process of chronic diseases. The company also offers a mentoring service with a team of experts and nursing staff. Often, chronic diseases involve a multitude of doctor visits and, in many cases, few answers. However, Devicare offers a cheaper and easier way of treating chronic diseases.
  3. Savana Medica provides a platform in which the clinical data for patients from healthcare organizations can be managed. EHRead, a form of Artificial Intelligence, or AI, technology, can obtain valuable health information that aids medical professionals in the diagnosis and treatment of patients. It is one of the top five health tech companies in Spain because this technology fosters quick and efficient access to records, which can help doctors understand a patient’s history of disease and illness.
  4. Genomcore is a company that has created an interface that stores a patient’s genetic information. Founded in 2015 in Barcelona, Spain, the platform that Genomcore provides for patient information can be efficiently shared with medical professionals when necessary. Genomcore helps foster more personalized treatment for patients and consequently the possibility of faster recovery from illness.
  5. Mediktor was founded in 2011 but has made a new name for itself due to increased use during the pandemic. Mediktor is an app that gives symptom assessments to patients via their own personal devices before even seeing a medical professional. In March 2020, the company released the COVID-19 symptom checker. With Mediktor, people were able to determine, with great accuracy, whether or not they needed to see a medical professional in relation to COVID-19 symptoms.

The top five health tech companies in Spain are instrumental to the world of healthcare today. While many people have restricted access to needed medical attention, these new technologies can change that.

– Grace Aprahamian
Photo: Flickr

Vertical FarmingThe new AI-run vertical farming plantation brings new possibilities to agriculture and efficient production, as Plenty, an ag-tech company, co-founded by Nate Storey, proves there is now more benefit than cost to vertical farming. By utilizing robots and artificial intelligence systems to regulate LED sunlight panels, watering systems and pest control, this futuristic method has surpassed its previous form of being too expensive and complex.

Vertical Farming

Through the current transitions made toward maximizing agricultural use of AI, farming today has already begun employing drones and smart robots to remove weeds or spread herbicides efficiently. Greenfield Robotics had already released different functional fleets active in certain farms. Now, Plenty utilizes similar technologies with robots harvesting and organizing plants in the vertical farming stations. Fundamentals such as water, temperature and light are systematically calculated and regulated through smart systems that prioritize a greater, faster and better crop turnout.

Benefits of AI-Run Vertical Farming

Through artificial intelligence, farmers are now able to adopt a more eco-friendly methodology. Robots and machine learning promote certain technologies such as tracking soil composition, moisture content, crop humidity and optimal crop temperatures. Despite the previous vertical farming history and cost-benefit analysis, modern-day AI-run vertical farming allows certain resources to be recycled, controlled and reused. This can be seen in AI-run water filtration systems that catch evaporated water from the farms or indoor energy renewal systems.

Alleviating Agricultural Issues

These innovations alleviate many issues that arise in agriculture and distribution. The most notable feat is the space that vertical farming saves in comparison to traditional farmland regions. Plenty’s vertical farm covers two acres and yields similar, if not better, harvest and product quality to that of a 750-acre flat farm. Plenty’s website expresses its greatest feat yet: “Imagine a 1,500-acre farm. Now imagine that fitting inside your favorite grocery store, growing up to 350 times more.”

Plenty also points out the freedom AI-run vertical farming brings to agriculture today. By being independent and self-sufficient with consistent sunlight, recycled water and a controlled environment, farming is no longer restricted to natural inconsistencies. Climate change and weather patterns do not determine the outcome of the produce, due to this new ability to control the necessary components to production. In light of COVID-19 and wildfires that breakdown supply chains, this factor prevents unprecedented shutdowns of essential services in agriculture.

AI-run vertical farming allows farms to exist within metropolitan sectors instead of weather-dependent regions. By having a closer source, distribution is more efficient leading to less CO2 emissions and dependency on preservatives. This method also allows cost reduction, since transportation, product cost and labor are reduced, which allows impoverished communities access to better produce.

The Future of AI-Run Vertical Farming

All things considered, this new innovative alternative brings a cleaner and more sustainable future for agriculture, whether it be in produce quality or carbon footprint. With Plenty’s ongoing environmental adjustments and technological updates, the organization continues to expand its service, with a $400 million investment capital from Softbank, Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos and former Google chairman, Eric Schmidt. Plenty has also partnered with Albertsons to supply 430 stores in California.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

AI Increases Food SecurityArtificial Intelligence seems like a far-off concept reserved for science fiction. In truth, AI is present in modern life and the advancements in this technology are being used to combat global poverty. Most prominently, computer scientists and engineers are improving the ways that AI increases food security globally. The need for utilizing technology in food security is essential to protect more than 800 million people suffering from hunger worldwide.

Predicting Threats to Food Security

A vital step to protect food security is looking ahead and responding proactively to potential problems. The Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS) works by gathering massive amounts of data from vast sources to forecast developing situations affecting food supply. NEWS is a perfect example of how AI increases food security with constant improvements in its system to enhance response times to price changes, poor weather conditions for food development and other global crop issues.

The effectiveness of machine learning far surpasses human data collection and these types of technology have already seen success. Through the algorithms created by AI technology, a forecasted drought prevented many Colombian farmers from planting crops that would not have been fruitful. This prediction saved the farmers millions of dollars by avoiding crop loss during the dry spell. Preserving large amounts of money to spend during opportune times is another way AI increases food security and stabilizes supply.

AI Optimizes Agricultural Procedures and Production

People living in rural areas that work in farming communities are usually the most susceptible to extreme poverty. AI can improve working conditions and modernize agriculture to protect vulnerable populations and provide them with upward economic mobility through technology education and increased crop production.

AI robotics is revolutionizing agriculture and crop harvesting robots as well as AI-enhanced drones are increasing production and keeping workers safe. Robotic weed control allows for the proper and safe distribution of herbicides that can be harmful to humans. This also prevents herbicide resistance. In Argentina, drones inspect wheat crops for harmful infections and pests. AI increases food security by diagnosing soil conditions as well. This technology allows workers to implement the necessary strategies for correcting nutrient deficiencies.

The most important aspect of these technologies is that they provide benefits but will not reduce the need for actual workers. Though education in these fields can be expensive, the skills learned will add value and mobilize people out of extreme poverty.

The FAO AI Systems Used for Food Security

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has implemented two programs in which AI increases food security and improves agriculture sustainability; the FAO’s WaPOR portal and the Agriculture Stress Index System (ASIS). Both systems monitor water usage in agriculture in different ways.

  • The FAO’s WaPOR portal monitors water in the Near East and African regions. It does this through open-source technology that gathers massive amounts of data. Simultaneously, the AI analyzes the data to determine the best water use for different crops and regions and uploads the information in real-time.
  • ASIS works similarly to NEWS. It is a satellite system that works as an early detection system for droughts or other water shortages. ASIS breaks down the information from a global standpoint to each country and region. Doing this allows people to be proactive in their preparation for impending droughts by improving water usage and shoring up logistics of moving aid to an area troubled by food shortages, thereby preventing hunger.

The Future of Food Security

As time progresses, AI will improve and become more common, eventually becoming cheaper and more accessible worldwide. With the rapid advancement in this technology and what is already in place to sustain food security using AI, a hunger-free world is a closer reality.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr

AI fights against COVID-19 COVID-19 has endangered the lives of millions of people around the world. Worse, the disease incites greater implications beyond itself. Its impact is threatening to turn back the World Poverty Clock for the first time this century. This would backtrack on the progress made in the past 20 years toward eliminating global poverty. However, artificial intelligence (AI) fights against COVID-19 in two very important ways.

A Basic Overview of AI

Originating in the 1950s, the field of artificial intelligence has become ubiquitous in our everyday lives: from determining our shopping habits to facial recognition to helping doctors diagnose patients before symptoms manifest. The computer performing tasks that we thought needed human intelligence is a very broad understanding of AI. Using a combination of programming, training and data, researchers who work with AI teach computers how to solve complex problems more quickly and efficiently than humans. In a similar process, AI fights against COVID-19.

The World Poverty Clock

The World Poverty Clock is a real-time estimate of the number of people living in poverty across the globe. Its interactive website provides a variety of statistics and demographics about those who are living in extreme poverty, including geographic locations and age ranges. Calculations are made using publicly available data to estimate the number of people living in extreme poverty and the rate at which that number is changing.

According to the World Bank, in a worst-case scenario, COVID-19 could push 100 million people into poverty. However, scientists are working hard to contain and eliminate the virus, AI being one of their strategies. AI fights against COVID-19 by predicting, detecting and eliminating the coronavirus in many parts of the world. In turn, protection from COVID-19 impacts lessens global poverty.

How AI Fights Against COVID-19

AI fights against COVID-19 in a two-pronged approach. It focuses on both detection of the virus and the development of vaccine options.

In late December 2019, the program BlueDot detected a cluster of pneumonia-like illnesses in Wuhan, China. This was the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. The program detected the virus nine days before the World Health Organization announced the emergence of a novel coronavirus. BlueDot software has the ability to sift through massive amounts of data to find patterns in the location and movement of a virus. Further developments in virus detection have been made by Alibaba Cloud with the creation of analytical software for computerized tomography (CT) scans. The software can detect coronavirus pneumonia in seconds with approximately 96% accuracy.

AI systems, like Google’s AlphaFold, are aiding researchers by creating predictive models of the protein structure of coronavirus. Models like these can then be used by researchers to design novel vaccine prospects. Overall, these systems enable scientists to reduce the time needed to begin clinical trials and find viable vaccines.

Under human oversight, AI systems can potentially control the spread of the coronavirus. The longer it takes to control and eradicate coronavirus the greater the number of people pushed into poverty. The use of swift and efficient AI applications could not only help curb the spread of COVID-19 but, in turn, fight global poverty as well.

Hannah Daniel
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Brazil
Brazil is the largest country in South America and is home to more than 210 million people. As of 2020, almost 7 million people in Brazil are living in poverty, approximately 3% of the total population. While this is already a significant decrease from previous years, recent innovations have helped lower poverty rates even further. Here are the most notable innovations in poverty eradication in Brazil.

Going Low Carbon

It is no secret that greenhouse gases have a significant environmental impact. Brazil has taken responsibility by rethinking its economy and discussing some potential solutions, including going low carbon. This change targets big infrastructure by encouraging green investments in industrial buildings, cutting down deforestation rates, as well as promoting the growth of agriculture.

Economically, by eliminating carbon emissions, more than $500 billion will go towards Brazil’s gross domestic product. These new funds will create around two million new jobs for the unemployed population. Because Brazil is an underdeveloped country, it relies heavily on foreign aid to boost its economy; attaining foreign investments from private companies has allowed for the creation of new environment-friendly markets. Through promotion of low carbon emissions, Brazil’s economy increased its GDP, indicating an improved economy.

Educating Brazil’s Future

In Brazil, 70% of children attend public schools. An average school day is around four and a half hours, but dilatory activities such as passing papers out or attendance often decrease the valuable time that could be dedicated to education. Only around 2% of impoverished Brazilian students will obtain enough education to improve their opportunities and livelihoods.

In 2017, the Connected Education Innovation Programme was started in order to provide technological resources for students. These resources include screens and reliable internet to help children achieve better quality education. In 2018, over seven million students profited from the Connected Education Innovation Programme. As the world progresses technologically, including these innovations helps improve a child’s likeliness to willingly participate in learning. Expanding these resources would go a long way in fostering a fun and safe learning environment.

Conditional Cash Transfers

In Brazil, the main conditional cash transfer program is called Bolsa Familia, or BFP. Conditional cash transfer programs are used in developing countries to provide welfare services for impoverished communities. BFP has helped Brazil’s impoverished population by improving the electronic monitoring of social services and the eligibility of low-income families.

BFP reduced Brazil’s extreme poverty rates by almost 60% and poverty by 30% between 2004 and 2014. By 2018, the program had reached more than 45 million people and created more than 20 social programs. By improving cash transfers, low-income individuals are able to gain access to services that benefit them financially.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence in Brazil is a recent addition to the country’s innovations. By the year 2030, Brazil predicts that around $15 trillion will be contributed to the world’s economy by the use of artificial intelligence technologies. Public transportation is a big factor where artificial intelligence comes into play in Brazil, as well as disease control.

In 2035, Brazil hopes to increase its gross value to more than $430 billion. Manufacturing makes up 12% of Brazil’s economy, which is another category in Brazil that is experimenting with new artificial intelligence machinery to benefit the economy. Through the usage of artificial intelligence in Brazil, higher levels of productivity are seen which helps increase the flow of Brazil’s economy.

 

These four innovations in poverty eradication in Brazil will help the nation further reduce its poverty rate. Increasing jobs, providing high quality education, offering cash options and bolstering the economy are all essential to this goal. Moving forward, it is essential that the Brazilian government and humanitarian organizations continue to prioritize poverty reduction.

– Karina Wong
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Mapping TechniquesHow many people live in poverty? The answer a search engine might give overlooks the complexity of the issue. A great deal of poverty data comes from the World Bank, which still relies on household surveys. These household surveys can be very inaccurate, and statistics like these are critical in the fight against poverty. Thankfully, many organizations are working on creating better poverty mapping techniques to help fight global poverty.

The Need for Poverty Mapping Techniques

Governments, private companies and NGOs must know who needs help, what works and how much they need in order to fight poverty. With more accurate data, aid programs can be rolled out more effectively, directly targeting populations who need it the most. Accurate data also determines the effectiveness of aid or other interventions, which helps agencies discover what works. It is important for the missions of many agencies to have accurate data on poverty, but methods for collecting this data are flawed.

One issue with current data collection is the amount of data available. The World Bank is a leader in the fight against global poverty, and it compiles many official statistics on poverty rates. Historically, the main way the World Bank typically measures poverty is through household surveys. However, these surveys do not reach as many people as they should. For lower-income countries, an annual investment of $1 billion would be required to expand these surveys to generate consistent, accurate data.

Not only are these surveys too narrow, but they are also not frequent enough. Surveys typically happen every few years and even every decade in some countries with lower capacities. Between 2002 and 2012, no poverty data was collected from 29 countries.

The Problems with Current Poverty Mapping Techniques

The most common surveying method employed by the World Bank is the household survey. Unfortunately, household surveys have built-in inaccuracies and miss many people, usually some of the poorest. This method tries to measure poverty by sending surveys to households, but these surveys are ill-suited to measure an atypical home environment. Many people trying to avoid poverty live in open households, whose membership is usually in flux. These households operate to reduce poverty collectively in ways that a typical survey cannot easily measure. When data from these households is not interpreted differently from other household data, overall data on poverty can be skewed.

Satellites Mapping Poverty

This dearth of accurate data was the inspiration for a team of Stanford researchers. Marchall Burke, David Lobell and Stefano Ermon have spent the better half of the last decade creating better poverty mapping techniques. The solution they are working on now is satellite mapping.

The team has used artificial intelligence to map poverty using publicly available satellite imagery. The system examines poverty by analyzing the wealth of assets in a given area as seen from space. By indexing images of wealthy areas and poor areas, the program can identify levels of poverty in other areas. It uses a variety of factors like lighting at night, roofing, infrastructure, roads and other easily recognizable traits to do so. Utilizing deep learning, the program is able to correlate factors and create an idea of poverty in an area with fairly high accuracy. The model explains about 70% of asset wealth variation at the village level. This means the model can predict more accurately than other attempts at mapping poverty using higher resolution imagery and mobile phone mapping. The ability to distinguish poverty at a village level also means that the program can identify levels of poverty in places that surveys never go, with much less cost and time required.

Household surveys have become obsolete compared to more modern and effective methods. Better poverty mapping techniques like the Stanford researchers’ will enable organizations to fight poverty with a greater level of accuracy, which will make this decade of poverty-fighting more efficient than the last.

– Brett Muni
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 

Tea Farming in Sri LankaSri Lanka is a small island off the southeastern coast of India. The country is home to around 22 million people and to a long and vibrant history. Sri Lanka has gone from an early Buddhist settlement to a colony under the control of major European powers to, finally, its own independent republic in 1972. Throughout its secular history, tea farming in Sri Lanka has remained a constant activity and has played a massive role in the development of culture on the island.

Sri Lankan tea gained global prevalence after British colonial rulers transformed tea agriculture into a plantation-style economic powerhouse. With the economic success brought on by the explosion of tea farming in the country, the British began pushing peasants and subsistence farmers into producing tea to capitalize on the global interest in the beverage.

Tea Farming in Modern Sri Lanka

Plantation-style agriculture still makes up a notable volume of Sri Lanka’s economy, and tea is the “preeminent crop of the plantation sector” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The global demand for tea has not diminished in modern times and seemingly neither has Sri Lanka’s role in providing it. The country exports hundreds of millions of kilograms of tea every year. For example, from January 2020 to May 2020 Sri Lanka exported over 100 million kilograms of tea to its trading partners.

Therefore, much of the country’s agricultural workforce is devoted to tea farming. More specifically, two million Sri Lankan farmers rely on tea farming and tea production to provide for their families and households. With tea ingrained in so much of Sri Lanka’s culture and economy, modern solutions need to be embraced to soothe the working conditions of the many poor farmers who work to meet the global demand for tea.

How Microsoft is Improving Tea Farming in Sri Lanka

To do so, Sri Lanka has turned to technology and confided in companies to assist the government in finding these solutions. For Sri Lanka specifically, Microsoft has been a superb partner in this goal.

One broad way Microsoft has helped is via a survey conducted with local business leaders to determine if they have an interest in integrating artificial intelligence (or “AI”) as a business solution. The survey discovered that 80% of those business leaders surveyed found AI to be essential to maintain their business’s competitiveness. Acknowledging this, Microsoft is investing millions of dollars into enhancing tech skills for businesses in Sri Lanka, as well as starting programs and providing hardware to assist tech startups rising in the nation.

The implications of this initiative are massive. Considering the vital status of tea farming to Sri Lanka’s culture and economy, Microsoft’s assistance in pushing more technology into businesses can lead to more efficient farming. As a result, there will be more valuable data available to increase crop yields and more companies will engage in tea farming as their enterprise of choice. The introduction of these tools can also lead to an improvement in the lives of millions of tea farmers in Sri Lanka in both safety and economic terms.

The Colombo Tea Auction

Such efforts have already begun to take hold in Sri Lanka. One major example of Microsoft’s valuable assistance to tea farming in Sri Lanka can be found in the Colombo Tea Auction. The Colombo Tea Auction is a weekly event that takes place in the nation’s capital involving the sale and export of tea from farmers. The event is vital to the tea farming community’s success as it is a major method for how the country’s tea is prepped and sold for export around the world.

However, the auction tends to involve a lot of close-quarters contact between attendees; a reality that has proven impossible given the current global COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, with the help of Microsoft’s Azure team and their Azure cloud and AI products, a local tech company was able to develop an e-commerce platform that allowed sellers and buyers to trade tea from the safety of their own homes. This was developed with extreme speed, and it allowed the tea economy (and two million poor tea farmers) to avoid economic disaster and flourish amongst a dangerous pandemic.

Now that the benefits are starting to become more tangible, and economic success is within reach for Sri Lanka’s farmers, technology may become more and more prevalent in the Sri Lankan tea industry. With the success of the Colombo Tea Auction’s move to digital commerce, along with Microsoft’s continued efforts to support Sri Lanka’s growth in tech and economic fulfillment, the world may see a better-equipped, safer and more successful Sri Lanka in the near future, perhaps beginning with their high-quality tea.

– Domenic Scalora
Photo: Flickr

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

Trees of KnowledgeSub-Saharan Africa continues to face high rates of education exclusion. Across the region, nearly 34 million children do not attend school due to inadequate funding, geographical distance and lack of educational staff. Children living in impoverished areas often have treacherous commutes to school and may experience teacher absenteeism upon arrival. Other children cannot attend school because they must work to support their family or tend to their livestock and land. Trees of Life is working to address the issues limiting access to education.

Education Challenges in Zimbabwe

In countries like Zimbabwe, the problem is pronounced. Most children in Zimbabwe receive primary education but only 49% of high-school-aged Zimbabweans attend secondary school. Furthermore, economic challenges have tightened funding for public and boarding schools, causing a steep increase in the cost of attendance. As a result, communities have taken to creating make-shift alternative schools run by locals to save on expenses. These schools remain unregistered in order to avoid fees and therefore do not undergo government inspections.

These challenges, however, are not unique to Zimbabwe. There is an urgent need to improve access to education in many communities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Experts have suggested that the implementation of technology into educational services may be a more cost-effective route than building physical infrastructure. Additionally, much of the population has access to basic smartphones or mobile devices. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s fastest-growing region in terms of smartphone adoption, estimating an addition of 167 million subscribers by 2025.

However, inconsistent and expensive data coverage as well as limited electricity for charging limits internet connectivity for many devices. Zimbabwean AI expert and entrepreneur, William Sachiti, has recently taken up this challenge with an idea for improving access not only to the internet but also to educational tools in rural areas. The project is entitled Trees of Knowledge, which reflects the common practice of gathering under the shade of a tree for class.

Technological Solutions

The Trees of Knowledge technology allows a tree or other landmark to broadcast a Wi-Fi signal. Any device within a 100-meter radius can connect to the network and access a pre-loaded server of educational content. The signal is produced by a micro-computer molded into the tree to protect it from damage. The module is powered by a small rechargeable battery that can run for several years without maintenance. The system also includes a solar-powered charging station that users can plug their devices into.

Any content can be uploaded to the educational server, but Sachiti hopes to eventually transition toward including lessons from local educators, making the content specific to each region. This would allow teachers to work with each country’s department of education to ensure that the curriculum is appropriate.

Trees of Knowledge has the potential to improve educational opportunities for rural and excluded communities. This highly integrated solution could mitigate long commutes to school, which can span from five to 1o kilometers. The system provides access to educational content as well as guidance for those unfamiliar with these new resources. As an open-source technology with no patents or intellectual property regulations, the logistics behind Trees of Knowledge are available to be shared and replicated. Since its publication in 2019, several large NGOs in Africa have picked up the idea.

Future Steps

The concept behind Trees of Knowledge is highly adaptable and can be applied to other uses. Similar technologies have recently been implemented by some national parks and nature preserves, who are using interactive digital programs to teach visitors about the ecology of an area. In rural communities, this technology could provide tutorials on first-aid skills, health and hygiene. On remote trails or routes, it may be used to offer critical safety information and orientation.

By removing the obstacles of cost, data coverage and power consumption, Trees of Knowledge is a highly sustainable idea aligned with the goal of minimizing climate change and habitat destruction. This new technology can provide a variety of educational resources by seamlessly integrating into the environment, yet leaving it unchanged.

– Sylvie Antal
Photo: Wikimedia