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

Medical Accomplishments of Artificial Intelligence

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

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

Advancements in AI for Agriculture

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

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

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

AI Combating Global Poverty

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

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

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

– Shweta Roy
Photo: Google

Poverty Mapping with the Help of Artificial Intelligence
Poverty mapping has proven to be a difficult task in past years. Poor countries are often reluctant to account for poverty due to corruption or the inability to do so because of ongoing conflicts. The World Bank reports that only 20 African countries conducted two or more population surveys on poverty from 2000 to 2010.

A new study from Stanford University hopes to improve poverty mapping by combining high-resolution satellite imagery with artificial intelligence.

According to a feature article published by online tech magazine Motherboard, Neal Jean, a Ph.D. engineering student at Stanford, has designed a machine learning algorithm that can predict poverty in Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Using satellite imagery to determine “nightlights” and levels of economic activity as a method of poverty mapping is nothing new. What’s different about the algorithm designed by Jean and his team is that it looks at daylight images of infrastructure, such as roads and metropolitan areas, which it then uses to identify nighttime patterns.

“Our basic approach involved a machine learning technique called ‘transfer learning,’ which is the idea that you can solve a hard problem – in our case, predicting poverty from satellite images – by trying to solve an easier one,” Jean said.

According to Motherboard, the algorithm may prove to be a very effective method of poverty mapping, especially given the cost of traditional household surveys and the lack of viable alternatives. Another advantage of the machine learning model is its transparency, as it doesn’t rely on private or protected information.

Jean told Motherboard that he hopes to make the technology open-source and cooperate with NGOs to put the algorithm to use. “If we could provide them with high-resolution poverty maps, they could overlay them on regions where operations already exist, and ultimately inform where they distribute funding,” he argued.

Jean’s machine learning algorithm is not the only artificial intelligence tool that is providing better data for poverty alleviation efforts. South African computer scientist Muthoni Masinde developed a solution that can forecast droughts with 98 percent accuracy, combining traditional knowledge with new technologies. In recognition of her achievements, she received a Distinguished Young Women Researcher award at the 2016 South African Women in Science Awards.

Technological advance has been the greatest impetus for poverty reduction throughout history, and artificial intelligence is the future of poverty mapping. It provides economists and scientists with better data in order to pinpoint and resolve problems that are holding developing countries back.

Philip Katz

Photo: Flickr