May 17th Is World Telecommunications and Information Society Day

Dr. Darren Wilkins

The Theme: “Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence for all”.

By Dr. Darren Wilkins (Email: [email protected]  Tel: 0777129092 & 0886703789)

On the 17th of this month (MAY), we will be celebrating WORLD TELECOMMUNICATIONS and INFORMATION SOCIETY Day. This year, the theme is “Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence for all”. This year the focus will be on the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to accelerate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Today’s article provides a little insight into Artificial Intelligence or AI and its impact on developing countries, like Liberia. The goal here is to create awareness for AI as we approach the WTIS Summit, which is expected to be held on May 17th.

Now, much has been achieved in the field of Artificial Intelligence or AI over the past decade. And, it is now clear that AI-based technologies are already being used to help people lead better lives by improving healthcare, education, finance, agriculture, transportation, and a wide range of other services.  AI is a technological leap into the advancement of man and his efforts to achieve sustainable economic development. It is machine intelligence (garnered from experience) used to perform human tasks.

So, what is Artificial Intelligence or AI? There is no universally agreed definition of AI. According to OECD1 and UNCTAD, “AI is defined as the ability of machines and systems to acquire and apply knowledge, and to carry out intelligent behavior. “This includes a variety of cognitive tasks (e.g. sensing, processing oral language, reasoning, learning and making decisions) and demonstrating an ability to move and manipulate objects accordingly. Intelligent systems use a combination of big data analytics, cloud computing, machine-to-machine communication and the Internet of Things (IoT) to operate and learn. AI is a software and generally algorithm based although its functions (e.g. talking or playing a game) need to be reflected by physical substance (such as robots). In this sense, AI is like a human brain.

AI has the potential to promote the socioeconomic development and enhance the quality of life of disadvantaged populations, including those within developing countries. This has been acknowledge by developed countries and other global institutions including the United Nations. In fact, there have been talks about the creation of Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI-D) as a subfield of the more established broader area of information and communication technology for development (ICT-D).

Ostensibly, the progress that have been made are a result of advances made in contributing fields, such as Big Data, machine learning, computing power, storage capacity and cloud computing, among others. AI-based technologies are already emerging as a key component of proactive tools and applications being used to help people lead better lives by improving healthcare, education, finance, agriculture, transportation, and a wide range of other services.

We have reached the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is defined by frontier technological breakthroughs. The changes brought by these frontier technologies will have a more profound impact, especially in the areas of health, agriculture and education.

Despite the improvement AI brings to the world, there are concerns regarding the economic implications of emerging technologies.  And, while advanced or large economies in the world are embracing and investing in AI at astonishing rates. There is a risk that developing countries could get left behind. Hence, governments now are urged to give policy prior serious thoughts in order to prevent ethical dilemmas, develop an adaptable workforce for the future, put in place anticipatory regulation to allow innovation to flourish, incentivize the private sector to act responsibly, and utilize AI to deliver more efficient public services

With all this talk about AI, what can it do for developing countries? AI holds immense potential for increasing productivity, most obviously by helping firms and people use resources more efficiently, and by streamlining the way we interact with large sets of data. In healthcare, data from smartphones and fitness trackers that are analyzed using new machine learning techniques, can improve management of chronic conditions as well as predicting and preventing acute episodes of illness.  In the legal sector, AI can be used t to sift court documents and legal records for case-relevant information. Other firms are using similar techniques as part of due diligence. In the area of cybersecurity, AI offers a way of recognizing unusual patterns of behavior in a network. These examples focus on using software to do the same thing as humans but, in many cases, analyzing data of volume or complexity that is beyond the analytical capability of individual humans. Indeed, AI is not a replacement, or substitute for human intelligence. It is an entirely different way of reaching conclusions.

As far as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are concerned, AI can be applied in all sectors and industries identified in those goals. A few areas, which are particularly relevant to developing countries included: Healthcare (SDG Goal 3) which addresses the shortage of medical workers in developing countries. In this case, AI can be used to fill this gap. For example, when Liberia and other countries experienced the case of the Ebola virus, machine learning was used in the identification of species that harbored the virus. In the area of Education (SDG Goal 4) In order to provide quality education, trained teachers are needed. In the developing world, that trained teachers are in short supply. While there are currently few applications of AI for education, AI can potentially provide customized teaching and automated assessment of essays.

In the area of Energy (SDG Goal 7) which is a cornerstone for sustainable development in the developing countries, there is an increasing demand for renewable energy. In this case AI can be used in hybrid energy system optimization. Regarding the Decent work (SDG Goal 8) goal of the SDG, AI-powered automation may replace some repetitive jobs and create new types of AI or IT related jobs.

For Industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG Goal 9) and responsible consumption and production (SDG Goal 12), AI is a frontier technology by nature. Adaption of AI will generally bring innovative ways of production and enhance productivity. Agriculture (SDG Goals 1, 2, 5, 8, 10 and 12) is key to the survival of any country. AI has immense potential for developing countries in terms of increasing agricultural efficiency. Additionally, AI can be used to transform public service delivery or e-Government. Every service government provides can be enhanced by AI when applied in those areas.

We have reached the fourth industrial revolution which includes artificial intelligence, an area that allows the automation of an increasingly wide array of processes in increasingly interactive and sophisticated ways. These advances will likely give rise to many opportunities for economic and social development in developing countries, for instance by increasing food production. Yet, these new technological advances do come with their share of risks which have special significance in developing countries. There are three inter-related risks that countries need to understand before engaging in AI: worsening unemployment, increasing concentration of economic power and wealth, and the spread of biases in influential algorithms.

Finally, many governments including the US Government, China, United Kingdom, India, Singapore, etc., have begun investing in AI for sustainable development. Global companies such as Amazon, Baidu, Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Tesla Motors and Nvidia18 have all invested significantly in the area of AI.  This means that in the coming years, we should expect to see AI integrated more expeditiously in our homes and work places. That’s it for today, until next week,

Carpe diem!!


  1. In addition to so many other benefits the application of AI might bring to Liberia, it is a vital tool in the fight against corruption prediction,reduction and elimination as this will serve as a deterrance effect . AI along with technologies such as Big Data could be used to reduce work loads on civil servants and greatly accelerate public services. AI could also be used to respond to predict and/or respond to disease outbreak in a timlely fashion. A national database could be established with a web browser interface for example where health stations around the country could put in data of cases on a daily basis. Say if a strain of flu appears to be ,say red, on a chart/graph , that should trigger a nation wide alarm and response. This will save a lot of lives. Just few of the applications.
    The government should invest in it.


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