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Humanitarian Future – Artificial Intelligence

Technology has changed the way that we live today. It has drastically improved the quality of life for many people. It has also aided in developing research, healthcare, sciences, and exploration. And the humanitarian field has not been an exception. So far, technology has been helping to save more lives, more efficiently. For instance with big data, satellites and mapping, robots, drones, blockchain, and other tech, this is the humanitarian future.

But can new technologies inject even more capacity into the humanitarian sector? Let’s take a look at how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is doing so.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

AI refers to intelligence in machines. Mainly, instead of a human being or an animal exhibiting intelligent behavior, AI studies how computers can do so as well. This means that they can assess their environment and adapt to succeed in achieving their goals.

There are thousands of examples of AI applications. Self-driving vehicles are one of the most popularly cited AI applications. Others include identifying different types of cancers and better predicting medical treatments. The finance sector also widely uses AI for basic accounting. And so forth.

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What can humanitarians do with AI?

Similarly, there are plenty of AI applications in the humanitarian sector. For example, data-driven decisions can be important for the humanitarian industry. However, human resources are often unavailable. An AI that can process large amounts of data and predict, for example, the location of the most vulnerable groups, can be one applicability for the sector.

Another example is a companion robot with AI. These can provide emotional support and monitor patients for mental-health issues. While ideally a person would be assigned to do this, resources are often insufficient. So this approach could ensure that more people are receiving the support that they need.

Challenges in using AI for humanitarianism

As with most technologies, AI does pose some concerns for the humanitarian field (and others). One of the biggest ethical questions around AI is the responsibility for potential mistakes. The developers of machine learning put in an algorithm that allows it to develop its intelligence within the context and thus bias of these developers. But over time, the machine begins to learn on its own.

So if something goes wrong or a mistake is made – who is to blame? Can one blame the people who put in the algorithm? And who should take the legal and moral responsibility for any mishaps? Layered on top of this, is the fact that humanitarians work on savings people’s lives and mistakes can be dangerous.

In addition to the moral and ethical issues around AI, there is also the question of cost and expertise. Since the technologies are new, few people in the sector have experience in deploying them. Also, they are costly to implement. This does not only pose an implementation challenge. It also sets up a potential gap between the humanitarian and the private sector in terms of innovative solutions.

Since AI is relatively new to the humanitarian field, organizations are still determining where AI can be most helpful. There needs to be a balance between humanity and practicality in addressing humanitarian needs. To this end, conferences such as AI for Good held by the United Nations in 2018, are an important milestone. They help to ensure certain and coordinated implementation of AI in the humanitarian sector.

AI-driven humanitarian projects

1. Artificial Intelligence for Digital Response (AIDR)

AIDR is a free and open platform that analyzes social media messages. It finds messages related to emergencies, disasters and humanitarian crises. Through these, it can map the different occurrences in real time and provide humanitarians with the most up to date information.

The platform uses a mix of human and machine intelligence As such, it is able to analyze and tag thousands of messages per minute.

2. AI for Humanitarian Action

Microsoft has launched the AI for Humanitarian Action Initiative. The program will address how technology can be used for humanitarian good. The organization has committed $40 million over 5 years to this end.

AI for Humanitarian Action will address four main areas. These are disaster response, refugees and displaced people, human rights and the needs of children.

3. USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society (USC CAIS)

The University of Southern California set up the USC CAIS to use AI for social good. The main goal of the center is to share ideas on how AI can tackle difficult societal problems.

The center’s projects so far include several issues. These are: public safety and security, social work, public health, conservation, cybersecurity, and crime prediction.

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