Empowering Communities through AI

It can play a much emancipatory role in building a more just and equitable society.

Last month, the Government of India organized a virtual Global Artificial Intelligence (AI) summit, RAISE 2020 (Responsible AI for Social empowerment). United Nation’s AI for Good platform is continuously working to solve Sustainable Development Goals targets expeditiously with the help of Artificial Intelligence. A recent example of how AI can power communities was witnessed in South Korea, India, and across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Korea, Covid test kits were developed using the help of Artificial Intelligence. AI and ICT techniques were successfully utilized for Smart Quarantine Information, contact tracing, improving diagnosis, and patient classification. In India, a variety of government platforms and private organizations used AI for various purposes ranging from estimating the spread of the virus by formulating mathematical model, contact tracing, deploying medical resources, contactless screening of citizens, public surveillance, developing vaccine candidate, and collaborating and communicating with scientists and experts across the world. 

Image source: Global Goal Cast

Artificial Intelligence (AI) simply means that machines or computers can function intelligently, take smart decisions, learn and solve problems due to improved capacity for handling large data and performing complex operations. Artificial Intelligence implies that machines or computers exhibit human-type rationalistic behaviours while machine learning means computers or robots automatically learn new things without installing a new program or code. The simplest, daily life example would be Google Map that helps you to navigate different places, determine the easy route, displays in-depth information, and even shows traffic predictions. The whole world is gearing towards Industrial Revolution 4.0, New Delhi is also working through innovative and collaborative platforms to create a skilled talent pool to exploit opportunities presented by AI, Machine Learning, ICT, Blockchain, Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, Big Data, Cloud computing, etc. India can also leverage AI for achieving Targets set under Sustainable Development Goal SDG 2030.

AI and ICT technology should be rigorously used in the Agriculture sector. They can facilitate farmers with accurate and detailed information promptly to take the right decision about the crop selection, weather-related warnings, fertilizer and pesticide use, water and land management, and resource mapping which will directly improve the productivity of the Indian farms making them more resilient and sustainable. Drones, Remote Sensing, and Geographical Information System (GIS) would help farmers with intelligent data gathering and automation of some farm operations. Recently, drones were deployed to control locust attacks in various parts of India. Application of AI for effective utilization of land, water, and other resources will free up the limited resources for other required use. Imagine an underground water supply system or water tap, where digital sensors will detect leak or wastage of water in time thus saving much precious water. AI sensors and smart detection system can be deployed to detect and manage soil, air, and water pollution. Tech start-up KETOS, a Water Management Company that uses AI tools have successfully implemented projects to detect water toxicity and wastage in various villages of India under Smart Village Initiative and also researching on the project which will solve the Arsenic contamination problem in Majuli, the world’s largest river island in Brahmaputra river, Assam. While addressing food and nutrition security, AI can play a huge role in India’s environmental protection and climate change efforts under SDG’s.

Trials of Goggle Project “Loon” which uses helium balloons flying at a height of 20 km to provide 4G LTE connectivity across “ remote and rural areas have been successful. With the internet penetrating the depths of India, AI and technology can bring about equitable development of these regions. Quality and world-class education catering to the unique needs of individuals can be made available across India. Telemedicine allows ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers or nurses to deliver services which only expert doctor could provide. The Digital revolution would enable equal access to the poor and most vulnerable in availing health, education, and development opportunities. Robots or drones are being already used for delivering essentials such as vaccines, military equipment at remote places, but robotic scavenger are also being developed that would assist and thus give better life and dignity to the people who work as manual scavengers. AI and its application would bring new job opportunities in rural areas as well as empower women and millions of poor.

Indian judicial system uses AI in a limited manner for scheduling cases or translating orders into vernacular languages. But, AI and data analytics have the potential to reduce the workload of overburdened courts to provide fast track delivery of justice to all sections of society. Artificial Intelligence with the facial recognition tools, drone-surveillance systems, and gigabytes of CCTV data along with social media behaviour monitoring can help to predict, detect criminal activities on time, and faster conviction of criminals. A health information system that enables the doctor to view a patient’s history and future health-risks at a mouse click would save many lives and also reduce wastages of time and money. Smart Health diagnostic system which advises patients on their own, and consults doctors only in the complicated situation could enable India to deliver health services to more people as the current number of doctors and specialists available is much below WHO standards. In the future, drones would be delivering packages at home, and the nature of businesses will transform dramatically. We can imagine intelligent machines and robots working more efficiently using resources at factories and workplaces in an optimum way thus reducing the consumption of the limited natural and energy resources.

Image source: Pacific Telecommunication Council

Despite being having huge potential for social transformation, Artificial Intelligence has an inherent risk of being bias towards some strata of society. If coding and algorithms used in systems are set in a way that favors men or spreads Racism, Casteism, or ignores the need of old or disabled people, the decision taken by these devices would do more harm than good. We are making machines intelligent by feeding them with data acquired by the tools which constantly monitor humans’ activity, habits, sleep-patterns, likes, and dislikes. Is it ethical to monitor, control, and modify human behaviour?  Humans can be held accountable for their wrong decisions but in the case of machines who would be held responsible? Owners, manufacturers, programmers, machines, or robots themselves?

Disruption in AI technology and tools must be supported by robust Data Protection and privacy regulations. If AI is used responsibly and ethically intending to undo the historical injustices and foster rapid sustainable development, it can play a much emancipatory role in building a more just and equitable society and achieving targets set under the 2030 SDG Agenda.


1. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/thirsty-solutions-water-managers-are-putting-ai-powered-tools-work/

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Ajinkya Madkaikar

Ajinkya Madkaikar is a Research Intern at The Kootneeti

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