A recent United Nations (UN) supported summit in Geneva, “AI for Good”, focused on the potential of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Essentially, any sector, which is data-driven (be it conventional, digital or geo-spatial), is open to the use of AI. In some areas, AI applications are relatively well-developed, while in others, they are in initial stages.
Development Goals | Health and nutrition
- AI-based systems can sift through the collected data about malnourished children and track the progress of an individual child at various Anganwadi centres in terms of their cognitive development and health.
- Image-recognition techniques can help in early identification of stunted growth, epidemics and other health issues. This information can then be used by the programme officers to recommend corrective solutions.
- Integrating information from other sources, the AI systems can assist in the diagnosis of problems being faced—from drought to poor sanitation and inadequate supplies.
Development Goals | Agriculture
- Several start-ups in the US have used AI to develop “precision farming” practices, which lead to a more efficient use of inputs and higher yields.
- Sensors gather information about the condition and colour of foliage and soil moisture content. This information is fed to the system, which determines the amount of water, and fertilizer to be provided.
- It also specifies which part of the plant needs to be provided with these inputs.
- These systems have reported higher yields and reduction in agricultural inputs.
- The use of such technologies in Indian conditions will need to consider much smaller land-holding sizes and the socioeconomic conditions of farmers.
Development Goals | Education
- AI-based systems can assist students with their learning experience, especially in changing the form and nature of content to suit the student.
- “Smart content” is generated with text summaries, supported with related videos and simulations.
- They can also help connect with students who are working on similar problems worldwide.
- The systems can ensure that learning takes place through frequent testing which can be used as feedback to alter the course content and trajectory.
- Intelligent tutor systems like “personal robots” can work and interact with humans as peers. Some of them are even capable of identifying and correcting misconceptions of a student as they learn the material.
- AI cannot entirely replace the human teacher, but an AI system can play an intermediate role by providing timely feedback to students and teachers.
Development Goals | Concerns
Many of these interventions appear to be far-fetched today. But we said the same about language processing, self-driving cars and Google directions. AI is no magic bullet. It is a set of computational tools that can be used to improve decision-making. Some of the available AI technologies are expensive today. There are also ethical issues of privacy of data, equity and liability of actions.
There is no denying that AI is in the middle of exponential growth and it has the potential to make game-changing transformations. The developmental challenges faced by India are also too big to be solved by the conventional linear approach. AI provides an opportunity for transformative solutions and India’s scale provides the possibility of rapid cost reduction of these technologies.
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