Creating Impact With AI: Doing Well By Doing Good
The use cases for AI powered social innovation on the rise
The global pandemic has given us all an opportunity to pause for thought and take stock of what is and what is not important. More and more businesses are turning to AI to become more sustainable, smarter and to better react to changing market conditions, as well as to ensure health, safety and social impact of our planet. We need a future where you can do the things you love; live the life you deserve and take the time to grow with nature and nurture the things that inspire you to help others. From pandemic prevention and fighting cancer, to fighting hunger, wildlife conservation and boosting accessibility, this article will explore exactly how AI is doing well by doing good. AI use cases can help towards overall adaptation in preventing wildfires, diagnosing deadly diseases, mitigating risks posed in critical areas as well as predictive analysis and monitoring to make our planet more resilient in the near future.
One of the most obvious and pressing applications of AI to everyday life is healthcare, specifically in detection and prevention. BlueDot is helping avert disruptive epidemics and pandemics with their technology. In 2019, just before Covid spread like wildfire, AI company BlueDot was one of the first to identify the outbreak in China’s Hubei Province and the first to accurately predict its pathways of international spread. BlueDot sounded an early alarm around the spread of the coronavirus from the Chinese city of Wuhan, using a combination of news reports, anonymous mobile device location data and global airline ticket sales data. An entire year before Brazil and India became epicenters of the virus, BlueDot was able to pinpoint these regions as forthcoming Covid hotspots.
This Canadian Startup combined global air travel, mosquito, climate and other population data to model the spread of the Zika virus from its origin in Brazil – including accurately predicting outbreaks in Florida and Angola months before they occurred. Not only did BlueDot successfully translate this data to the global scientific community to protect lives and livelihoods, but the company has also been successful in raising capital, having secured $7M in their latest Series A round of fundraising. Kamran Khan, Founder and CEO at BlueDot told me that “If there’s one lesson we should take away from Covid, it’s that time is everything when you’re confronting an outbreak. Our work at BlueDot harnesses the power of global data, artificial intelligence, and digital technologies to help governments and global businesses build resilience to tomorrow’s inevitable threats so that they can respond faster, smarter and more effectively than ever before. And by empowering these organizations, we are realizing our vision of a healthier, safer, and more secure world.”
Another successful company that is using AI to do good and combat cancer is Viome, which has received a total of $48.5M in funding, and is in the Series B stage. Consider that cancer caused an estimated 606,520 deaths in the US alone in 2020, according to the National Cancer Institute, and it is simple to see the need of Viome to succeed.
“The Viome device that got FDA’s breakthrough designation uses simple non-invasive saliva samples to screen for oral & throat cancer. Imagine being able to find out your early risk for many cancers and chronic diseases, by just spitting into a tube! We use a systems biology approach to deeply understand the origin and progression of disease using gene expression (mRNA) analysis with a state-of-the-art AI/ML platform,” according to Guruduth Banavar, Viome’s Chief Technology Officer.
Another area that is gaining traction is robotic medicine, with the market expected to grow from $4.84 billion in 2020 to $5.13 billion in 2021. Robotic doctors can stitch wounds with greater accuracy than any human, and even remove tumors with more care, causing less damage to surrounding tissue. The US company Intuitive Surgical is well known for its da Vinci robot-assisted surgery platform. In 2018, over 5,000 surgical robots like these were employed around the world, completing over one million surgical procedures including neurology, gynecology, orthopedics, urology, dental work and hair transplants. In addition to cancer and robotic medicine, artificial intelligence has proven itself a key player in helping to conquer debilitating mental illnesses and disabilities.
Per the NIMH, nearly one in five US adults live with a mental illness, equating to 51.5 million people. Moreover, the CDC states that over 60 million US adults live with a disability, or 26% of the entire US population. This has naturally led to an upward demand in AI-based digital psychiatry, which uses artificial intelligence for quicker and more accurate patient diagnostics. The market for digital psychiatry is well established and mature; for example, in 2020 alone mental health apps raised a staggering $1.2 billion. One of the most interesting advances in digital diagnostics was conducted by a group of researchers, who were able to predict psychiatric diagnosis from Facebook data. The team used AI to scan Facebook messages of the people participating in the study, as well as the photos they posted to forecast if they had a mood disorder. The AI was able to pick up that messages that used expletives were a good indication of general mental illness, while words that invoked negative emotions pointed to disorders like schizophrenia.
On the topic of accessibility, there are multiple AI for good startups that are aiding in this space. China-based CloudMinds has raised a total of $468.6 million in funding. It uses a smart helmet called Meta, which is equipped with smart sensors that help people with visual impairments move around their environments safely.
A successful Israeli company, OrCam Technologies (which has raised $86.4 million in funding) is another amazing example of a social impact doing well AND doing good, by repurposing AI technology for driverless cars to help the 300M blind and visually impaired people around the world. A next generation example of a brain-based application is Elon Musk’s well-funded NeuraLink (which has received $158M in funding and is developing brain-machine interfaces).
SeeingAI is a major initiative of Microsoft to address accessibility. It uses an intelligent camera app that narrates the world for those who are visually impaired, using VoiceOver by providing information about who and what are around the person. This is done by reading short texts and documents to scan products and identify people, currency and colors. It also has the unique ability to identify products, with various details like directions or ingredients and describe people in terms of their presumed gender, perceived emotional status, or estimated age.
Eliminating food hunger
Now that we have discussed healthcare, a great subsequent branching point is to touch on eliminating world hunger. According to the World Food Programme, if the current trends continue in chronic hunger the number of hungry people in the world will increase to 840 million by 2030. One AI based project that is helping combat this dire issue is Nutrition Early Warnings Systems (NEWS), developed by CIAT. NEWS will aggregate and analyze satellite imagery and traditional data, such as rainfall, temperature and vegetation health, to help predict the nutritive value of crops. According to the CGIAR, the organization has an annual research portfolio of just over US$900 million, which NEWS is a critical part of as a financially sound and scalable project.
Moreover, 40% of the world’s crops are lost to diseases. High-growth startup Imago AI is an India-based food tech startup that aims to use AI to increase crop yields and reduce food waste. This technology can help feed the world’s growing population by optimizing agricultural methods. It combines machine learning and computer vision to automate tedious tasks like measuring crop quality to help farmers to identify plants that have diseases.
In parallel to fighting food hunger is wildlife conservation, yet another area where AI is helping make a positive impact. Humans have caused 322 animal extinctions over the past 500 years. As of 1970, the world has seen a 68% average decline of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles. Many of the world’s animals are on the verge of extinction because of poaching, with around 100 elephants killed every day for ivory, meat, and body parts as well as Rhinos and Tigers, which are also under severe threat. PAWS, Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security is an AI-led system that evaluates information about previous patrols and poaching activity, then generates logical patrol routes for conservation agencies to scout. PAWS gets more intelligent as it collects more data and via AI and predictive analytics.
Just in the Americas alone natural ecosystems provide humans an estimated $24 trillion worth of economic value every year, equivalent to the entire GDP. Innovative AI applications like WildTrack are using “AI-enabled Footprint Identification Technology (FIT) to collect, analyze and distribute data on species numbers and distribution at the scale and resolution required.” Zoe Jewell, President, WildTrack says “AI can provide a transformative solution by rapidly decoding the essential elements of footprints for us. Our AI platform is already giving 90% accuracy at the species level and, through a democratized data-collecting platform, we’re building individual profiles fast. I see AI as a superpower assistant – we can deploy it to rapidly help interpret and revive our traditional ecological knowledge, and accelerate data-driven solutions for the biodiversity crisis.”
With disruptions related to Covid, and the continuation of uncertain and unnerving times looming overhead, we need more actionable goods to be spread around the world––and AI can help us do well by doing good. Social impact is now the most important business imperative. Climate change, deadly diseases, food supply, dwindling natural resources and other disruptions are compelling organizations to transform how they operate. AI already provided massive benefits to society from improving health outcomes to mitigating world hunger, and tackling issues of inequality and exploitation head on. These are just a few use cases of how Artificial Intelligence is saving our planet. Artificial Intelligence is helping us get back to a more sustainable, cleaner and healthy society. AI is also helping us to accelerate the journey into a more resilient, sustainable future. The world is changing, and that change is accelerating. Now is the moment of opportunity to act.
Seen on Forbes (Innovation): Article Link