Applying AI for a Better Tomorrow

October 13, 2016     By : Elena Mesropyan

If previously AI was believed to be the future, in 2016, it is an inevitable part of reality in a range of industries and segments, as well as a matter of financial and scientific interest for research institutions, governments and businesses.

Bright entrepreneurs have already brought AI to agriculture, the oil and gas industry, radiology, financial technology, security and more. The largest and most successful companies in the world strongly believe in AI and invest substantial time and resources to harvest its potential.

Addressing the importance of initiatives with AI and AI-powered technologies for various aspects of everyday life and for particular segments of the national ecosystem, the White House has released a report, outlining among other things, the role of AI in ensuring social welfare. Let’s look at some of the most interesting and important ways AI is believed to be working for social good:

Social service for underprivileged and citizens in poverty

Similar to the opportunities for AI in the criminal justice system, an advanced software can also aid disadvantaged groups of population and citizens in poverty.

The report brings up an example of the US academic institutions that have launched an initiative to use AI to tackle economic and social challenges: The University of Chicago created an academic program that uses data science and AI to address public challenges such as unemployment and school dropouts.

Another educational institution, The University of Southern California, launched the Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society, an institute dedicated to studying how computational game theory, machine learning, automated planning and multi-agent reasoning techniques can help to solve socially relevant problems like homelessness. Researchers at Stanford University are using machine learning in efforts to address global poverty by using AI to analyze satellite images of likely poverty zones to identify where help is needed most.

Low-resource community assistance has been outlined as one of the most important areas of AI application. While middle and upper class are not particularly vulnerable, low-resource communities are often the ones governments invest efforts in exploring the ways of lifting from a disadvantageous position.

“Using data mining and machine learning, for example, AI has been used to create predictive models to help government agencies address issues such as prevention of lead poisoning in at-risk children and distribution of food efficiently,” stated in the report Artificial Intelligence and Life in 2030.

Medicine/Healthcare

The report by the White House suggests that in the future, AI will play an imperative role in the healthcare system as it will allow to predict complications of certain conditions and enable preventive treatment. Transition to electronic health records, predictive analysis of health data may play a key role across many health domains like precision medicine and cancer research, according to the White House report.

The government, probably, is being somewhat modest in estimating the transformative role of AI in the future of medicine because many of the things predicted to come to reality in the future are already a present reality.

AI can already diagnose a life-threatening disease and prescribe a treatment – at the beginning of August, IBM’s Watson, a supercomputer powered with AI has been reported to successfully diagnose a rare form of leukemia on a patient within minutes – something doctors failed to do after months. Watson managed to make its diagnosis after doctors from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Medical Science fed it the patient’s genetic data, which was then compared to information from 20 million oncological studies.

The next step after the ability to reliably diagnose diseases and prescribe effective treatment is an intelligent and independent robot-doctor. In fact, there are already robots that are helping wheelchair-bound patients to walk again and even robotic surgeons.

Justice system

AI has a potential to improve the criminal justice system, including crime reporting, policing, bail, sentencing and parole decisions. Professionals believe that if used carefully, the technology might also make fairer decisions about the length of prison sentences, determine which police officers to deploy and could also churn through body-worn camera footage for an unbiased look at the situation. AI would use the records for a deep analysis to help police departments identify cops who are good at de-escalating incidents and the officers acting violently towards minorities.

Speaking of minorities – AI can also be applied to track the activities within particular neighborhoods and groups of population to prevent abusive police behavior and to identify when that behavior occurs. The estimates that black men are four times more likely to be pulled over than whites, four times more likely to be searched after being stopped and 20% more likely to be handcuffed during their stop, even if they were not ultimately arrested, lead to the necessity to deploy an unbiased system that would look beyond the race/color/ethnicity and analyze actual behavior.

City traffic management

“In transportation, AI-enabled smarter traffic management applications are reducing wait times, energy use and emissions by as much as 25% in some places. Cities are now beginning to leverage the type of responsive dispatching and routing used by ride-hailing services, and linking it with scheduling and tracking software for public transportation to provide just-in-time access to public transportation that can often be faster, cheaper and, in many cases, more accessible to the public,” the White House suggests.  

The idea to use AI for effective traffic management is not new. Back in 2008, to help ease freeway congestion and improve safety, Morgan State University and Clemson University developed a prototype for a new traffic surveillance system. This proposed vehicle-infrastructure integration (VII) system was developed to assess and predicts traffic conditions via wireless communication between roadside sensors and the increasing number of cars that have global positioning system (GPS) technology. Data gathered from this communication could estimate the speed of traffic, the location of incidents and the likely number of lanes blocked, resulting in improved mobility and safety for everyone on the road.

AI also plays a key role in self-driving vehicles, which have the potential to save thousands of lives, as well as in unmanned aircraft systems, which may transform global transportation, logistics systems, and countless industries over the coming decades, according to Ed Felten, a Deputy US Chief Technology Officer.

Environmental causes

Environmental studies and nature conservation initiatives can be taken to the next level with AI. The software capable of identifying and recording individual animals on millions of tourist photos could be helpful in animal migration tracking. The software can identify individual animals in the photos and build a database of their migration using the data and location stamps on the photos.

AI could also be used to optimize the patrol strategy of anti-poaching agents and to design habitat preservation strategies to maximize the genetic diversity of endangered populations.

The report also brings an example of unmanned water transport that would gather data to drive insights on the condition of wildlife in the ocean and other records allowing preventive measures to preserve natural ocean resources.

“Autonomous sailboats and watercraft are already patrolling the oceans carrying sophisticated sensor instruments, collecting data on changes in Arctic ice and sensitive ocean ecosystems in operations that would be too expensive or dangerous for crewed vessels. Autonomous watercraft may be much cheaper to operate than manned ships, and may someday be used for enhanced weather prediction, climate monitoring, or policing illegal fishing,” the report states.

Education

As we have noted before, the education market is valued at approximately $4.5 to $5 trillion per annum. Moreover, education and learning technology sector contribute billions to economies. With education, the application of AI is one of the most debatable questions. The value of a human teacher cannot be overestimated, and EdTech is considered to be creating a mess by some industry professionals.

Nonetheless, with proper solutions and implementation, professionals from Stanford believe that “AI promises to enhance education at all levels, especially by providing personalization at scale. <…> Natural Language Processing, machine learning, and crowdsourcing have boosted online learning and enabled teachers in higher education to multiply the size of their classrooms while addressing individual students’ learning needs and styles.”

The government officials have been supportive of the idea of a more customized educational process – Ed Felten, a Deputy US Chief Technology Officer suggests that the technology has the potential to help teachers customize instruction for each student’s needs.

Public safety and security

Public safety and security have a number of aspects – the criminal justice system, the healthcare system, cybersecurity, public and personal physical safety and more. We have touched upon some of those aspects, but an important one to address is a matter of continuous tracking of public activity through AI-powered technology, such as drones and public surveillance cameras.

Equipped with advanced video analytics solutions that are now mostly used by retailers to increase sales and foot-traffic, drones and city cameras could turn records from public places and drone cameras into insights on public behavior and high-risk zones requiring reallocation of a task force.

On a flipside, however, as scientists from Stanford note, “The latter raises the specter of innocent people being unjustifiably monitored, and care must be taken to avoid systematizing human bias and to protect civil liberties. Well-deployed AI prediction tools have the potential to provide new kinds of transparency about data and inferences, and may be applied to detect, remove, or reduce human bias, rather than reinforcing it.”

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Elena Mesropyan
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Elena Mesropyan

Global Head of Content at Let's Talk Payments
Elena is a research professional with a background in social sciences and extensive experience in consumer behavior studies and marketing analytics. She is passionate about technologies enabling financial inclusion for underprivileged and vulnerable groups of the population around the world.
Elena Mesropyan
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