Science

As Covid worsens inequalities, some wonder if technology can close the gap

Side face of the AI ​​robot by particle shape.

Yuichiro Chino | instant | Getty Images

The global pandemic has worsened existing inequalities around the world and raised questions about whether technology can help level the playing field.

As a hub of advanced technology and innovation, Asia faces the same debate: Can technology work for everyone?

Developing economies are more vulnerable to the inequalities of access that exist in technologies like artificial intelligence, according to Kay Firth-Butterfield, head of AI and machine learning, at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

“Partly that’s because we don’t have enough data, because it just isn’t created,” she told Rosanna Lockwood on a special episode of CNBC’s The Edge.

AI can really be used in all areas, where we need to progress as human beings. Whether it’s climate change, healthcare or education.

Kay firth butterfield

Head of AI and Machine Learning, World Economic Forum

“We need data to train the models and we need that data not to be harmed,” she said, adding that the developers need to come from those same emerging economies.

“There is also a problem that so many people don’t have the internet and don’t have access to AI tools. So these developing economies are being harmed because they can’t access AI and the benefits that come with it, ”she added. .

Debugging AI

Despite its enormous potential, AI faces several challenges. It has been widely criticized for perpetuating inequality because of its inherent biases.

For example, Firth-Butterfield pointed out that most of the developers who write the programs are men, which means women are under-represented.

“A lot of the people who train the algorithms tend to be male and tend not to be very diverse in their backgrounds. So that means they bring this lack of diversity to algorithm training, ”she said, adding that this often means the input data can contain the historical biases of those who created the data.

On top of that, AI facial recognition software can be discriminatory because it does not recognize certain races.

“What we saw, for example, is that it caused very poor facial recognition results for Africans. We have seen that this has caused very bad results when we use AI for loan development, or when we use AI to help judges decide on bail applications, ”noted Firth-Butterfield. .

“So we really have to work to fix that. And one of the ways to actually do that is to make sure that you have diverse teams around the developers. “

Raising Women in Tech

The pandemic has also exacerbated inequalities like gender and race issues in Asia.

Céline Le Cotonnec, head of data and innovation at the Bank of Singapore, pointed out that Covid-19 has revealed huge inequalities between different companies – and that includes hampering the progression of women in society.

“Everyone had to work from home. The children did not go to school, women being the main caretakers of the children, they were the first to have to take a step in their career and in their activity ”, declared Cotonnec.

“I think it hampered the progress that the company was actually making,” she added.

Bank of Singapore recently joined the SG Women in Tech initiative, a government-led effort that aims to inspire women to envision a future in tech across Singapore.

“We have promised that about 30% of our new graduates will be women. A second initiative concerns the empowerment of women, ”said Cotonnec.

“So we’re doing… a workshop on empowering women in tech – so they can say, ‘It’s doable, I’m about to work not only in tech, but tomorrow, to play a role. leader in our organization, ”she explained.

Government efforts

As part of its efforts to accelerate the benefits of AI and technology, the World Economic Forum has launched the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in more than a dozen countries. The goal is to work with governments and businesses to help mitigate risk and test technology governance frameworks.

I would say governments need to have national AI strategies and they need to do it urgently.

Kay firth butterfield

Head of AI and Machine Learning, World Economic Forum

“AI can really be used in all areas where we need to progress as human beings. Whether it’s on climate change, healthcare or education. So we really want to maximize those benefits, ”said Firth- of WEF. Butterfield.

“I would say governments need to have national AI strategies and they need to do it urgently. There aren’t many in developed countries. [and] developing economies, ”she said. “Obviously, technology companies have a role to play. Businesses are not spending money the way they could or should. “

She cited India and Singapore as examples of countries working to develop a national AI strategy. Such a plan lets companies know what the government plans to do in this area, she said.

“Singapore has really shown the way. They worked with us on their model, their governance framework for AI and how companies should deploy AI and think about ethical challenges, ”noted Firth-Butterfield.

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