Poverty is a lack of resources to satisfy fundamental human needs such as food, safe drinking water, shelter, education, and healthcare. The World Bank describes “extreme poverty” as a daily income of less than $1.90 per person. According to the United Nations (UN), eradicating poverty remains the most pressing global issue, with over 780 million people (roughly 11% of the worldwide population) living in poverty. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations seeks to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030.” Despite limited resources and increasing climate change concerns, artificial intelligence (AI) provides promising solutions to support poverty alleviation efforts in developing economies.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a promising solution to the significant effect of global economic development on developing economies. AI applies to any machine or system that exhibits human-like behaviour. AI is now embedded in our smart home gadgets, speech-to-text (natural language processing), self-driving cars, healthcare, financial services, and entertainment. AI increases human efficiency by automating repetitive and hazardous duties. The topic of AI and poverty is still comparatively new, and more research and studies are being conducted to determine the application of AI to poverty issues. However, with the recent development of AI applications in agriculture, education, health, clean drinking water, and information and communication, it is seen as possible to change people’s lives through AI, which can be a means to alleviate poverty.
AI has aided the fight against hunger and poverty by utilising digitally intelligent agriculture technology, correctly predicting whether or not to access information and smart health devices. Studies show that investing in agriculture can decrease poverty four times more effective than investing in other economic sectors. For example, AI has assisted India in lowering farmer expenses and improving agriculture. AI advancements enable more food to be created at a lower cost, benefiting the poor and marginalised. Furthermore, UNICEF focuses on developing a facial recognition application to identify malnourished children. In addition, it can assist in reaching the world’s most vulnerable children and providing the required assistance.
Examples of how artificial intelligence has been used to alleviate poverty.
AI in Agriculture
In 2020, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University collaborated with agricultural leaders and plant scientists to solve the emerging global food crisis by developing and deploying a comprehensive system of sensing, robotics, and AI to improve plant breeding and crop management practices to fight the food crisis. One example is using automation and data-driven tools to increase the output of heat and drought-tolerant crops like sorghum. For instance, taking high-quality pictures of sorghum grain heads and analysing the data, followed by processing the information such as size and quality, produces data that can help farmers grow more food with less water.
AI for Poverty Mapping
In 2020, Stanford Scholar created a powerful tool that combines free, publicly available satellite imagery with AI to estimate poverty across African villages by gathering satellite images, capturing and analysing development over time. The findings can then be disseminated and shared with development organisations and the government to plan and implement programmes that help the disadvantaged and marginalised groups.
AI in Water Quality
According to a 2020 study, AI can measure and forecast the presence of pollution in water supplies. In this manner, AI could aid in predicting and measuring the water quality monitoring process, thereby increasing access to a safe water supply.
AI for Disaster Management
Three hundred twenty-five million impoverished people are predicted to be vulnerable to natural disasters by 2030. AI aids in the tracking of weather patterns to anticipate the severity of natural disasters such as earthquakes. Accurate location prediction can help save the lives of millions of people. Furthermore, AI assesses the harm caused by natural resources using satellite data and an algorithm.
AI in Healthcare
One of the crucial areas where AI can assist the poor and marginalised groups in healthcare. EMRs, for example, are digital versions of patient and population health information that is more common in low-resource environments. For instance, in 2021, 93% of primary care practices in 24 OECD nations used EMRs on average. As a result, EMR could improve access to healthcare for the poor and marginalised populations.
AI’s Role in Poverty Reduction
The effect of technology on financial services with various products, apps, processes, and business models that have transformed the conventional way of providing banking and financial services is called digital financing. Consequently, transaction costs have dropped dramatically, particularly in rural areas, making them more affordable. For example, according to a study performed in several provinces to create the financial technology (fintech) index, fintech, while uneven across regions, effectively reduces poverty in all areas.
With Covid-19, online education has gained popularity, demonstrating that technology can improve access to education. In addition, when combined with high-quality learning tools, AI in education can help students learn better and faster.
Nature assists us in growing food, producing water, irrigating fields, providing shelter, and preserving the environment entails safeguarding food production, protecting air and water from contamination, and sustaining livelihoods. AI employs low-carbon energy systems that incorporate a high proportion of renewable energy and good farming while preserving the environment. IBM, for example, uses 30% more accurate weather forecasting to help renewable energy businesses manage their plants, maximise renewable energy production, and reduce carbon emissions.
AI can also produce income for the poor and marginalised communities. With the rise of AI, there is a growing demand for people with AI abilities. A World Economic Forum report states that artificial intelligence will generate 2.3 million jobs by 2022, with healthcare, education, finance, and transportation possibilities. Furthermore, using AI in agriculture can create jobs in the rural economy, which benefits smallholder farmers, especially women.
However, while new and advanced technology can significantly change societies, it can also negatively affect social inequality. Job loss, bias in the health sector, and social biases (gender, race) are examples of how conscious and unconscious biases occur in AI as its use grows. Also, what if AI fails? It will have an impact on millions and billions of individuals. As a result, it is critical to understand that AI has limitations and biases and that the related risks and problems must be considered when using it to address poverty issues.
Finally, AI has the potential to play a significant part in global poverty alleviation. Agriculture, schooling, health, clean drinking water, and information and communication can all benefit from artificial intelligence. However, AI has limitations and biases, and it is critical to consider the risks and problems connected with it when using it to address poverty issues. AI can be a valuable tool in poverty alleviation efforts if the appropriate policies, regulations, and governance structures are in place.
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