We live in a capitalist world which has been instrumental in the creation of two extremes of the wealth spectrum. And while substantial time and effort has been spent on the top 1% or even 10%, very little attention has been paid to the bottom 10% – the chunk of people that actually need attention and support.
Poverty has been around ever since the invention of money. While money alone does not determine whether a population is living in poverty or not, it is nonetheless a good proxy. At periodic intervals, The World Bank sets the International Poverty Line. It encompasses basic living needs such as food, shelter, electricity, health and clothing. The threshold, since 2015 and at prices established in 2011, was set at $1.9 per day. At this level, currently, 736 million people worldwide are living in poverty as of the latest data.
Although this figure is high, it is still commendable that the percentage has fallen to 10% in 2015 from a mammoth 36% in 1990. Technology has played a huge role in bringing the poverty level down. Technology is also going to be the catalyst in addressing this issue going forward – this time, with the help of Artificial Intelligence(AI).
To tackle the issue of poverty, first it is necessary to identify the areas that are plagued by it. The highest rate of poverty is prevalent in Africa, where the percentage of poverty stricken people run up to 40%. The second highest case of poverty is prevalent in South Asia where the percentage is in late teens. But even in these broad areas, it is difficult to pin-point the exact locations since there are settlements which aren’t in the radar of the respective governments – this is especially true in case of Africa.
AI can help to pin-point the exact locations. In recent years, scientists have studied the constant stream of images taken by satellites and used AI to identify places where poverty is present. These areas are identified based on a ‘control’ which is a non-poverty area and compared with the photographs over a period of time. Researchers at Stanford University have made considerable advancements in this area using satellite imagery and machine learning.
Turning to application, the most important area where AI can bring about a positive change is in agriculture. The world population is ever increasing and area under cultivation is at best the same, or at worst, decreasing. Many reasons can be attributed to the erosion of cultivable lands, but the issue of feeding the increasing population with the same or lesser area of land remains. There have been agricultural revolutions in the past and the efficiency of an area of land to produce more crops have increased. These advents are near close to maxing out and newer technology and methods need to be developed to address the issue.
Data such as rainfall, temperature, wind speed and direction, moisture and solar radiation can be used to prevent loss of crop due to the weather. In a study it was found that almost 90% loss of crops are attributed to weather related reasons and in the same study it was found that AI can help reduce these losses by 25%.
It is a Swedish startup, provides farmers and agriculturists accurate and location-specific weather forecasts. The startup claims that on a 3 square kilometer range, its forecasts are reliable 84% of the time. The company has sent more than 220 million forecasts since its inception in 2015 as per its website.
Indian agri-tech startup, Intello Labs, detects an image of a commodity sent by a user, then using AI it analyses the image to digitize and objectify the commodity. Currently it tests and grades commodities like wheat, corn, tomato, soybean, potato and onions. This helps the retailers put quality produce on its shelves.
Augmenta, a startup based out of Athens, Greece, has developed a robotic system that helps the farmers to accurately fertilize and spray the fields. It claims that its technology can reduce fertilizer use by 15%, increase the crop yield and crop quality by 12% and 20% respectively.
Root AI, a Boston based startup is developing a system with the help of AI to support the indoor farming sector.
How Prominent the Role of Education?
Apart from agriculture, education is another vertical where AI is being deployed. Education is the building block on which nations are made. Due to problems such as lack of infrastructure, lack of personnel and lack of medium, education doesn’t reach all. This is where AI steps in. With the advent of chatbots which can proxy as teachers and guides, people in remote areas are being educated. AI also teaches itself about the student’s learning level and skills, and creates a tailor made syllabus for the student. This ensures personalized and focused education which hones the student’s capabilities.
AI is also being used to remove the ‘medium’ barrier in education. With AI, content can be provided in whichever medium the student is comfortable with – voice, visual or both. Moreover, the content can be provided in the language which the student can understand.
Querium, a startup from Austin, Texas, provides STEM tutoring lessons using artificial intelligence. It analyzes the answers and the length of time it took a student to complete the tutoring classes, and it then provides insights into the learning habits of that student and suggests improvement areas.
Leverage Edu, an Indian startup based out of Delhi, mentors students and guides them in college admissions. Using AI, the startup helps students choose right programs and colleges and also connects them to top experts. The AI tool which the startup employs uses certain objective and subjective parameters to evaluate a student and then provide the right matches.
Cognii, based out of Boston, Massachusetts, provides virtual learning assistance by employing conversational technology to guide students in open-format answers which improve their critical thinking skills. It is customized to each student’s needs and offers one-on-one tutoring.
Nuance, also based out of Boston, Massachusetts, makes and provides speech recognition software. This is helpful for students who have trouble with writing. This technology can transcribe at a speed of 160 words per minute. The software finds other applications such as improving spelling ability, dictating lectures or performing tedious tasks such as document and email writing.
The Vertical of Healthcare:
On the healthcare vertical, AI has been making inroads to tackle the problems of the poor. Most beneficial aspect of AI in healthcare is the possibility of remote examinations. There is seldom any proper healthcare facility in remote and rural areas. Poor people cannot afford to travel to nearby towns and cities to receive genuine medical attention. In this case, AI can bring the medical counsel to the homes of the people for a speedy consultation. AI can also greatly reduce the cost since it can be deployed to a large number of people simultaneously. This would save money that otherwise would’ve been spent on infrastructure. There is also the problem of good physicians in the rural areas. With AI, people can get access to world-class diagnostic facilities which can offer a more personalized solution to each patient’s problem.
Niramai, an Indian start-up, seeks to address the problem of low participation of women in regular breast health check-ups. In the absence of non-invasive methods of examination, a mere 3% of the Indian women populace have regular check-ups. Niramai, acronym for ‘Non-Invasive Risk Assessment with Machine Intelligence’, provides a solution for early breast cancer detection which is portable, non-invasive, radiation-free and non-contact.
Freenome, based out of San Francisco, designs healthy conditions based on an individual’s cell-free genome. The company also deploys AI to detect colorectal cancer.
Recursion Pharmaceuticals, a startup from USA, combines biological science with advanced algorithms, and with the help of AI, tries to discover new therapeutic opportunities for rare genetic diseases.
OrCam, based out of Israel, seeks to empower visually impaired patients with artificial vision. . It creates technology that provides visual aid through a wearable platform.
These are some of the few applications, albeit not the only ones, of AI which can help alleviate poverty. A lot of research has taken place on the subject and it has been found that broadly food, education and healthcare are the three major reasons of poverty. Technology is being used to tackle some of these issues. Artificial Intelligence has already proved to be a boon. It is hoped that as it evolves further it will alleviate poverty at a greater pace.