From ordering Domino’s Pizza on your favourite chat app to combating global warming, artificial intelligence (AI) ubiquity is already here and will undoubtedly intensify. Yet, while its phenomenal rise and potential reach is making many nervous about apocalyptic endgame scenarios, much of what AI is already doing should give us a more pragmatic outlook for the future.
The confluence of increased computing power, internet maturity, social media, mobility and a vast ocean of data have laid the perfect plot for technologies like AI to enter the scene.
Like the humble plankton, the diminutive algorithm is fast-becoming crucial staple food for gargantuan industries as they power forward to claim their stake in the future-world. However, AI’s potential extends far beyond making already rich board executives and Silicon Valley propeller heads even richer. There is a very human aspect to the technology that has the potential to enrich the lives of many who find themselves on the fringes of society.
Giving Millions a New Lease on Life
A partnership between India’s National Association for the Blind and Accenture is developing an assistive technology known as Drishti to help millions of legally blind people improve their quality of life. Powered through AI, Drishti works by describing surroundings to the visually impaired with stunning accuracy in near real-time.
The technology uses natural language processing (NLP) to “…disambiguate, infer and generate a coherent narration of the world…” thus allowing individuals to navigate their daily lives with far more independence. India has over 300 million legally blind citizens, many of who were unemployable hitherto. Thanks to Drishti, hundreds are now entering the job market in sectors such as banking, customer service and the public service domain. The project also has pilots in South Africa and Argentina.
Curbing the Spread of Fatal Diseases
Computing giant, IBM has been working with West African organisations and governments to prevent a repeat outbreak of the Ebola virus which claimed more than 11 000 lives in 2014. Through an open platform that collects and shares social, demographic and disease-related data, IBM’s Watson is helping health agencies to accurately identify at-risk areas, prioritise medical logistics and further research into the disease.
In fact, it’s analytics platform helped researchers to identify previously omitted carriers of the virus and also help to study and maximise the impact of interventions. Using advanced mathematical models and computer simulations, IBM has given governments and healthcare agencies a powerful weapon against one of the most aggressive and fatal diseases in recent history.
Feeding a Growing Family
As the world’s population creeps toward the 9 billion mark, pressure on the planet’s resources is intensifying on a daily basis. Current population growth trends requires that food production increases by 70% by 2050 to avoid a famine outbreak of global proportions.
To help keep up with demands for more efficient farming, systems like John Deere’s AutoTrac are helping farmers reap the most out of precious fertile soil. The technology uses AI-based machines that plant crops uniformly and with heightened precision and also reduces the use of chemicals that affect soil fertility while introducing new efficiencies into various other areas of daily farming.
AI is also being used to reduce water wastage caused by outdated farming techniques. Farming accounts for over 50% of all human water consumption, with a large percentage being used inefficiently. This has led to a partnership between two companies from Israel and New Zealand who developed Crop X.
The system uses sensors planted in crop fields that feed data to the cloud where algorithms go to work on soil, environmental and weather metrics to inform farmers on the best times and quantities of water to use for irrigation. Crop X claims to reduce the total water consumption of an average farm by up to 30%.
We’ve Only Just Begun
The prior should hopefully provide some assurance that those nasty bots won’t come kicking down our doors in the middle of the night any time soon. AI’s amazing ability to help us address many of the pressing issues facing humanity should give us far more hope than gloom about its potentialities. As exploration into the many applications around it continue we’ll undoubtedly uncover many ways in which to use it less ideally. Yet, technology’s neutrality means it will be up to us humans to ensure that it becomes a force for good.
From server rooms housing Windows NT4 systems of yesteryear, to hybrid cloud environments we find today, Yaseen has worked with leading technology brands for over a decade, which gives him an acute understanding of where technology has come from and the new and interesting places it is taking the business world. As a Digital Copywriter, he uses this unique vantage point to share his insights on the evolving digital realm.