From farming to finance: 3 promising examples of AI-enabled tools
When artificial intelligence (AI) became a major talking point beyond tech developers and experts, much of the conversation focused on how this would disrupt human capital. With AI being able to perform various low-skill tasks in a quicker and cheaper way, many jobs are at risk of being displaced by machines. Workers need to be “upskilled,” or learn new skills beyond their current job descriptions, to adapt to what AI brings to the table.
While this continues to be a pertinent issue for various companies, these conversations about AI being a disruptor only capture one side of its human impact. AI, as well as related technologies such as data analytics and machine learning, are also being used to uplift and vastly improve the quality of life for people, and to create opportunities that were erstwhile simply out of reach.
Some teams and startups have found use cases for AI deploying it to help underserved communities around the world. Through AI-powered programs, these startups are filling gaps brought about by lack of resources, shortage of manpower, or inability to reach far-flung areas, enabling them to serve communities who would normally not be able to avail of such services.
AI for agriculture
Nowhere is this better encapsulated than in FarmView, a project out of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the U.S. that aims to use artificial intelligence in addressing an impending food shortage from the growing population. Using a machine that retrieves data from real crops, FarmView aims to find the conditions that lead to the highest yield of sorghum, a kind of cereal grain. This includes observing common causes for disease within plants as well as dissecting how its genetics influence yields – features that farmers and scientists won’t be able to easily observe.
Note that FarmView’s AI program doesn’t replace farmers per se, but simply provides them the data needed to maximize their yields. And with sorghum being able to grow even in drought-prone areas, FarmView will be able to help uplift agriculture and provide a reliable source of food in impoverished areas around the world.
“Why would a world-renowned computer science school – rather than a land-grant university – conduct research on grain sorghum? Because by using the advances in these new technologies, plant scientists can understand crop growth in ways once unimaginable,” wrote FarmView in a product brief on CMU’s website.
AI for health
FarmView’s use of AI to better understand and dissect data is a common use case, and it can be applied to many fields beyond agriculture. One of the companies applying it to healthcare, another data-intensive industry, is Chinese manufacturer Motic. In collaboration with the Global Good Fund, which invests in impactful solutions around the world, Motic is creating an AI-powered microscope that uses the technology to scan blood samples for traces of malaria.
Called the EasyScan_GO, Motic integrated its line of affordable but high-grade microscopes with AI technology developed by a company called Global Good in creating the device. Using machine learning, it is able to detect malaria parasites within minutes, allowing communities in areas without medical professionals to still be diagnosed properly and quickly.
On top of this, the technology allows for Motic’s microscopes to learn how to detect other major diseases in the future. And instead of restricting access and charging high fees, Motic and Global Good are implementing a “modular pricing scheme” that makes the device more affordable for lower-income communities that are more prone to malaria outbreaks.
“Our goal in integrating Global Good’s advanced software into Motic’s high-quality, affordable digital slide scanner is to simplify and standardize malaria detection,” said Richard Yeung, Vice President of Motic China, in the product’s official press release. “Success with the most difficult-to-identify disease paves the way for the EasyScan product line to excel at almost any microscopy task and to detect other major diseases that affect developed and emerging markets alike.”
AI for financial inclusion
While both FarmView and Motic are using AI as a major component of their respective projects, the technology can be used in far simpler but still equally impactful ways. Take Saphron, a Philippine-based insurtech startup that is partnering with large insurance providers to make their products more accessible to the billions of uninsured individuals in the world.
One way it’s doing this is through empowering the insurance agents of CARD Pioneer Microinsurance Inc. (CPMI) , the insurance arm of the Philippines’ largest microfinance group. As CPMI is employing moms as its microinsurance agents, it is able to reach several unbanked communities in the Philippines that would otherwise not be able to access financial services from formal institutions.
However, this means that CPMI’s agents may have a hard time doing the logistics of their jobs, as they don’t usually have the digital platforms that make processing these documents easier and, more importantly in insurance, more timely.
Saphron’s NANAI is an AI-enabled platform that makes it easier for these community microinsurance agents to get individuals to sign up, monitor the different policies of their clients, and validate any policy claims. NANAI provides a way for CPMI’s agents to handle the large amount of documents required for their jobs, hopefully making things more efficient.
“One proven and effective way to serve the world’s billions of uninsured is through microinsurance, and the key to making microinsurance efficient and sustainable for insurers is deep technology,” said Winston Damarillo, Chief Strategy Officer of Saphron, in the Global Insurtech Leaders Summit held in New York last June 18 and 19. “Through our ecosystem and partnerships, Saphron is poised to make financial inclusion a reality for billions around the world.”
FarmView, Motic, and Saphron are only 3 of the many businesses and organizations around the world that are finding impactful use cases for AI. Their projects prove that AI has evolved from a disruptor of low-skilled jobs to an enabler of inclusive and sustainable projects for underserved communities. – Rappler.com
Marie Ritz Peng is a digital specialist.