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How Artificial intelligence can be used for social justice

Consider this: By the year 2025, it is estimated that the Global Revenue generated in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) is up to $118.6 billion!

Here is the flip side and staggering contrast to that: It is estimated that nearly half of the world’s population live on less than $2.50 a day. While the one stat does not necessarily directly correlate with the other, it does make you sit view society in a completely different lens.

That is why the field of artificial intelligence for social justice has been increasingly brought to the front of pertinent issues that concern data scientists, academics and organisations. Particularly in today’s climate, where there is an overwhelming demand by the public for social justice, AI has to play its part. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, but rather how.

AI for many years has been seen as the enemy of the human – as something that replaces instead of collaborates. Indeed, many cite AI as a reason for people losing their jobs, as a ‘machine can do it faster’. However, this is far from the case, as AI has shown to enhance human’s living and employment experiences. This is exactly why many are turning to AI as a solution for social justice – to play an active role in the distribution of opportunities and privileges within a society. AI has shown in the past it has the ability to do so and is perhaps not obvious to the naked eye.

Many of the problems that face the world today can be aided by the role that AI can play. From HIV/AIDS, racial inequality, poverty and economic empowerment. It’s often in the merging of two fields that a solution is found. That is why individuals at the forefront of social justice causes (whether it be NGOs, politicians) need to engage with the experts in the fields of AI. As Einstein once said, “You cannot solve problems at the same level, it was created”. Therefore, to solve the problems humans created, we need to lean on machines to act as a catalyst to solve it.

Thus, experts from the AI field bring in all types of knowledge, from machine learning to new technologies. Social justice experts bring in their understanding of society and interventions to inform these technologies. Together, a space is created that can potentially solve many problems.

Let’s take a look at three examples of where AI played a role in social justice to understand how it could be used in future:

Economic Development

There still exists a large gap between the rich and the poor in most countries. A large portion of the population have skills that do not match the employment opportunities of the future. Many people do not have jobs, and those that do are at risk of losing them in the next few years due to AI.

Artificial intelligence can play a crucial role in economic development. At the Artificial Intelligence for Economic Development Conference held in San Francisco in 2018, several keynote speakers cited examples and papers of how it has been used. One Paper noted that in Five African Countries, satellite imagery was used to provide a scalable method to estimate consumption expenditure in the agriculture field. These consumption expenditures were measured against maise yields, access to electricity and other variables. Through the use of a neural network and satellite imagery data, a less expensive and more scalable method was found. The result? More data points, greater access to electricity and increased opportunities for a reduction in poverty in those areas. 


The year 2020 will be known as a key year in educational history – a year, where schools and institutes were forcibly coerced into moving their learning online. Online learning became the norm for many instead of the exception. This does bring into question; however, questions such as access to the technology required to have access to an education that is based online.

But it has also re-surfaced many issues in education. In many classes, the student to teacher ratio is often drastically imbalanced to provide high-quality education. AI can play a role in maximising automated feedback tools for teachers and students that are instant and scalable. Using AI as tutors or aids to educators is a way of ensuring that each student gets the same quality education – whether they attend public or private schools. One textbook, for example, is inanimate and can generally only be used by one person at a time. However, if you have a tablet or laptop that is connected to the internet, suddenly the world of resources and information becomes available. That is where AI comes in – to provide automated, up to date platforms for the audience that they are being used by.

For example, a company called Third Space Learning provides Maths tutoring in the UK. Through machine learning algorithms, they are able to provide in-the-moment feedback to tutors. This helps them understand the students they are teaching better and also guides them through lessons. Automatic alerts are sent when there is disengagement by students and is aided through supplemental material provided at the time.

In many universities and schools, AI-based language translations systems are being used to provide access to students where their home language differs from the language that they are being taught in.

Health and hunger

Hunger remains one of the issues that continue to plague society. The UN estimates that there are about 815 million people that suffer from chronic undernourishment as a direct result of not having food to eat. The reality of not being able to eat something every day is often taken for granted.

This is why the role of AI is crucial in stepping in. Research in the field of AI has looked at early-stage diagnosis of malnutrition and optimising food distribution. Several projects have also been successfully run to solve problems related to hunger.

In Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, a project was conducted called FAM – Famine Action Mechanism. Through the use of data collected from these countries, various AI automated triggers were put in place to identify warning signs of food crises and to anticipate potential famines. Other institutions have also used satellite images to create maps that could predict potential famines and areas for poverty.

Another example is when IBM partnered with “Bread & Life” to create an interactive digital tool that distributes food in emergency situations to NGOs. Through the use of large computation of data plugged into various machine learning systems, areas were located that suffer from hunger, and this feedback was used to more efficiently distribute food and parcels.

Stephen Hawking, once said that “AI is likely to either be the best or worst thing to happen to humanity”. No truer words have ever been spoken as it relates to AI. As demonstrated in the diagram above, when AI research meets social justice knowledge and is implemented, it inevitably yields results.

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