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UNDP joins test of AI for poverty reduction

Artificial intelligence will be examined as a potential tool of sustainable development by international organizations, tech giants and academics.

WASHINGTON (AN) — Artificial intelligence will be examined as a potential tool of sustainable development by a consortium of international organizations, tech giants and academics.

The United Nations Development Program, which operates in 177 of the U.N.'s 193 member nations, announced it is joining the Partnership on AI founded by Amazon, DeepMind, Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft two years ago.

Since then, others such as Accenture, eBay, Human Rights Watch, Intel, UNICEF and the University of Oxford have become part of the group.

Their aim is to ensure that artificial intelligence, or AI — including machine learning that enables computers to improve without programming — will be used for safe, ethical and transparent purposes.

They also hope to advance public understanding of AI, create best practices for its use and serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society.

Drones and remote sensing to collect data are among the uses of artificial intelligence that UNDP said it already has adopted. Some of the data is being used to help the Maldives better prepare for disasters, for example, and to help Uganda create better living quarters for refugees.

Helping the world's poorest

In 2010, the United Nations said it reached one of its so-called Millennium Development Goals for 2015 five years early — cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty by half.

One of the U.N.'s 17 so-called Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 aims to end poverty and hunger everywhere. UNDP said it will "work with partners and communities to responsibly test and scale the use of AI to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals," which pick up where the 2015 goals left off.

"By harnessing the power of data, we can inform risk, policy and program evaluation, we also can utilize robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) to collect data and reach the previously deemed unreachable — to leave no one behind," UNDP said in a statement.

Whether the 2030 anti-poverty goals can be met remains to be seen, since it would mean lifting 800 million people who live in extreme poverty, on no more than US$1.90 a day. The trade wars sparked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs against many of America’s trading partners are a big concern among leaders of international organizations who fear they will slow or halt the anti-poverty efforts.

Benjamin Kumpf, a UNDP official in charge of innovation, said the latest advances in robotics and AI have the potential to radically redefine human development pathways.

"The path to such redefinitions entails concrete AI experiments to increase the effectiveness of our work as well as norm-setting: we have to think beyond guidelines for ethical AI to designing accountability frameworks," he said.