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The great divide of AI


Image by Canva AI


Written by Darwish Thajudeen


Dear friends,


AI today is very different from a year ago. The number of searches for the term “AI” has quadrupled since Sep 2022. The impact it has on our educational systems, in job placements, in creativity, in most other fields has been tremendous. But are the benefits of it equally distributed?


AI has proven beneficial to most of us in many ways we don’t realize. The improved search results, newsfeeds, video suggestions are all the result of AI powered machines and algorithms. Although convenience of AI has improved and made lives of many far easier, the fact is that, not everyone has equal access to these benefits nor are they aware of such changes.


Today AI might be merely a tool, but the pace of development could turn AI into an agent that drives the growth of civilizations. Just like how tools made from rocks shaped our lifestyle, identities and habitats, AI would someday shape the lives of the future. The world would be further divided into the haves and have-nots of AI technology.


This is because, when AI enabled societies could easily explore, discover and invent knowledge to empower themselves with cutting-edge technologies to advance further as a much more developed civilization, the underrepresented would be left behind from chances of any development, making them unknown.


AI is perceived by experts to be the base for the next revolution. Just as how Industrial revolution changed the history and direction of many nations, making them among the top economies, AI would alter the world order. This is also the reason why the AI divide issue has been discussed in a global stage such as the GPAI summit 2023 held in India.


In this newsletter we would like to explore this in depth, to understand this gap between AI rich countries and AI poor countries. We would also look at why we need democratized AI solutions and NPOs like MI4People to bridge this gap, and we request the kindhearted followers of MI4People to read through and support us to spread this word.


AI shapes the future

There is no doubt that the future we would live in would mostly be in some part or majorly influenced by AI. AI is no longer a trend but a reality not just individuals but even organizations have learned to embrace. Common understanding of AI has evolved from being just ChatGPT in 2023 to much more intelligent assistants with numerous names and forms in web searches, browsers, cameras in smartphones, etc. This would eventually spread into almost all parts of our lives like personalized insurance policies, medication, media feeds, education, etc. And the potential it has in economic and social stages would be huge. But not everyone would be able to enjoy it with the same conveniences because already at this stage it is found that the benefits are majorly concentrated in the Global North, leaving the majority of world’s population behind.


This concentration of AI development and AI tools in the Global North is not the major concern, but the lack of developmental opportunities and inclusion of the Global South to utilize it and understand the need for it. In our understanding, this is more than a political issue but rather the issue of how end users perceive the need for it. This is why this newsletter does not discuss why most countries are left behind, such as the political situation in that country or the regulatory system or historical background and financial situations in those countries. Instead, we explore what would the world look like if this gap widens. And for this we are using three major factors.


1. Education and Development

When we explore the current capabilities of AI we understand that it has helped students learn better, write better and understand things around them better and easier. A learning solution personalized according to the capabilities, needs and learning style of a student would have sounded like a fantasy a few years back. Today, institutions work with such personal AI tutors that could help a child explore his curiosity and learn according to his preferences. This is possible today in the same world where kids of certain communities have not yet held a pencil ever in their hands. Even today our world is divided for many reasons into two contrasting worlds, where working hard would mean earning good grades for some while it simply means earning a piece of bread for other; having fun would mean interactive brain developing games for some while rag picking is all the fun other have ever known. We can understand what future holds for these kids from the latter scenario.


When we realize that AI technologies could solve the issues of accessibility to schools and availability of experienced teachers in those regions can be easily overcome even at very low costs and in a relatively short time, how many of these countries are willing (and also able) to tackle this issue with the help of AI?


2. Jobs and Economy

While developed nations automate tasks that need less human intervention especially in low skill jobs such as a cashier at a grocery store or a toll collector or even logistics drivers, this would potentially displace a lot of low- and middle-skilled workers. Although it improves the economics of the developed nation, this in turn not only affects the migration of low skilled workers to the developed countries, but also adds to the poverty of such low-income countries relying on the foreign income coming from the migrants in those countries.

 

And since, for developing countries with abundant unskilled labor, as this technology might not be readily applicable there would be far more applicants available for the same position of a cashier, and the situation would be manipulated to pay lesser and lesser wages for the same job, as unemployment increases. In an economic sense this could disrupt economies reliant on manual labor, and foreign income, leaving millions more vulnerable.


In villages and corners of the world where neither electricity nor clean water has reached, the need for such technology might seem nonexistent but in reality, their potential and opportunities are wasted away because of lesser productivity. And the impact of this is humungous in the development of those societies. Because as their productivity decreases, so does the GDP and further their ability to master such technologies. This makes them not just a society that is left out but might someday be a society that becomes unknown to us all.


3. Healthcare and Medicine

AI is transforming medical diagnostics and treatment in developed countries. Yet, developing countries with limited healthcare infrastructure and a lack of digital literacy might struggle to integrate and maintain such complex systems. While we are fortunate enough to have access to advanced medical care facilities and resources if in need, this need exists in other parts of the world. It is the reason why MI4People’s volunteers work on a project to provide physicians in underserved regions the ability to analyze radiographs in facilities where radiologists are often missing. In this country as the specialists are in very short supply because of their high demand abroad, the countries medical system could rely on AI technology for help. But would that be possible in nations that doesn’t recognize the need for it? Will the community ever realize that there are such possibilities?


These examples might not sound harsh enough because we might have never experienced any part of it or ever heard of it. But this gap exists today and would widen further tomorrow, making it even more impossible for the technologically poor civilizations to reap any benefits of AI while the AI enabled civilizations could access all the convenience. And they would not even realize the existence of the other half because their feeds and news would be filled with news that matters to them and personalized to them. And this has to change now.


Beyond Access: The Bias Blindspot

The problem extends beyond mere access. AI systems, trained on data sets often reflecting the realities of developed nations, might not fit the context of a developing nation. A model developed in these nations could be perceived as biased in the developing nations. A loan approval AI trained on data from developed countries might unfairly disadvantage small businesses in developing economies with different financial ecosystems. These biases, if unchecked, could perpetuate existing inequalities and hinder progress in those nations. Therefore, the right solution would be the inclusion of the local communities in developing such models or using the relevant local data for the project. Every nation should be able to provide its own open data for the development of models suited to the nations.


Building Bridges, Not Walls

When discussing data, some countries might be very uncompromising. And this could hinder the development of many useful solutions in those nations. But rather when these nations could adopt a clear data governance and regulatory framework, this issue can be easily overcome. This is a need every government should understand and implement as fast as they can. Some nations such as United States or European Union has recognized the need for AI related regulations and has appointed relevant authorities for this. This points out the need for it.


Instead of AI rich countries being blamed and looked at differently, the AI poor countries should extend their hands to work together with these nations to develop solutions that best fits the needs of every community. This is not only the responsibility of nations but organizations and institutions to develop collaboratively to find required solutions. Many AI organizations are willing to offer their services for free to these countries looking for such solutions.


Spreading the word

The most important factor among all solutions is the understanding of the potential of AI and the possibilities it holds to overcome most of the issues our communities currently face. The communities might have a lot on their agenda to discuss, but it is the duty of the experts to spread this word among their communities to help them embrace this technology and encourage them to make the best of it. This is possible with a variety of media today. MI4People uses its LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and many other streaming services to spread the goodness of AI.


Together we can close the gap

Who or what is responsible for the in inequality in the access to the potential impact of AI? We don’t believe that this question has a lot of importance. This might sound ridiculous at the first glance because we could easily blame on everything starting from the political system in developing countries, corrupt government officials, world economic system or consequences of colonialism. But we believe that we should not again drew imaginary lines between humans born in at different places of this world. With the technologies and collaborative willpower of committed people, we can make this world a better place.


Fortunately, we have the resources to learn and spread and realize the idea. We are also blessed with many helping hearts, minds and hands that support us to take on projects that ensures that not only saves lives in developed countries but also in the remotest places of the world.


We have embarked on missions that help develop context specific solutions because we collaborate with local communities in developing countries. We make sure the best experts are our guiding stars. We collaborate with universities, research institutions, and tech companies. We also make sure that this word reaches the right audiences and that is why we have awareness programs that connect our audiences with AI experts and make sure their voice reaches everyone. Above all we ensure all our projects are available to all.


Now, what could you do?

The world we live in is blessed only because many hearts, like you, believe that your footprints could leave a permanent mark in the lives of many more to come. Our projects are the results of many like you who believe in our purpose to create solutions helping the weakest. We request your unconditional support as long as you believe in our mission. We want you to spread the word to your friends and colleagues. We want you to encourage others to understand AI and embrace the goodness of it through all channels possible. And if possible we request you to kindly donate as much as you can to ensure we could continue our work, because we require more than working hands and minds, we require resources and materials that are sometimes costly and we should not stop until we have reached our mission.


With greetings

MI4People team


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