During my regular travel across the Asia region, a hotly-debated topic among business leaders, government policymakers, academics and industry experts is the potential impact that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have on society.
Understandably, some commentators take a cautious view when it comes to AI development, sometimes painting a grim, dystopian future where large swathes of the population are rendered jobless, access to AI is not evenly distributed among citizens and privacy and civil liberties are increasingly under threat from AI’s insatiable need for data.
There is no denying that AI will present a new set of societal challenges that will need to be navigated thoughtfully and carefully and, in particular, it will be critical for all organizations to build trust in AI among their customers and stakeholders.
However, these concerns should not overshadow the enormous potential that AI offers society.
Here are five key areas where we are already seeing remarkable developments and improvements in Asia, thanks to AI.
Asia-Pacific is currently home to 690 million people with disabilities. AI can help people with vision, hearing, cognitive, learning, and mobility disabilities perform daily tasks more independently, lead a richer, more productive life and participate more fully in society.
For example, Seeing AI is a free app that leverages AI capabilities to identify a broad range of visual cues – including faces, emotions and handwriting. That data is then converted into audio descriptions for the visually-impaired. This enables the 285 million people in the world with low vision to better navigate their day, making the visual world more accessible.
Today, Asia is the world’s most populous region with more than 4.5 billion inhabitants, approximately 60% of the global population, and this number is forecast to grow to over 5 billion by 2030. This will put incredible strain on the region’s already-challenged food supply chains unless farmers can find new ways to keep up with demand, such as leveraging AI and analytics to greatly improve their yields.
In India, Microsoft has partnered with a non-profit organization, International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), to develop an AI Sowing App that sends advisories to farmers on the optimal date to sow their crops, based on weather conditions, soil, and other indicators.
The solution predicts the optimal sowing period by using AI to analyze 30 years of historic climate data and calculate the adequacy of rainfall and soil moisture using real-time data and weather forecasting models. In addition, the program does not require farmers to incur capital expenditure, such as installing sensors in their fields, making this optimal for emerging markets.
3. Climate Change
One of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century is the changing climate, and how it threatens human health, infrastructure, and natural systems. A leading cause of climate change is carbon emissions.
At Microsoft, we embrace our responsibility to operate sustainably and reduce the environmental impact of our business. One of the ways we are achieving this is by enlisting AI’s help to manage the operations and infrastructure of our data centers. As a result, less electricity is needed to fuel data centers’ computing and cooling requirements. In fact, our cloud services are 93% more energy efficient and up to 98% more carbon efficient than traditional enterprise data centers.
We are also seeing AI technologies applied beyond the data center to improve the energy efficiency of entire buildings. In Singapore, approximately one-third of the nation’s electricity is consumed by buildings. JTC, a government agency responsible for developing the nation’s industrial infrastructure, is taking a proactive approach to address this voracious demand for electricity by centralizing its operations on the Microsoft Cloud to monitor, analyze and optimize its buildings. Using sensor data and AI-driven analytics, JTC can now identify and rectify faults before breakdowns occur through a predictive model, resulting in a 15 percent drop in energy cost avoidance.
Education is one of the building blocks for creating a better future, and we are leveraging the power of AI to enhance the education experience for students and improve outcomes in schools.
In Andhra Pradesh, a state in southern India, Microsoft is partnering with the government to launch a new app that predicts which students are most likely to drop out of school. Powered by machine learning, AI capabilities, and the cloud, this solution processes complex data sets that include enrollment information, student performance, gender and socio-economic demographics, school infrastructure, and teacher skills, to look for predictive patterns.
This enables administrators and educators to intervene early and target the most at-risk students with programs and counseling to prevent dropouts. The app is already being used successfully by more than 10,000 schools in Andhra Pradesh, covering more than five million students in 2017.
Lastly, AI technology has the potential to assist healthcare providers in their quest to tackle some of the most prevalent diseases we face today, as well as improve the quality of life for Asia’s growing population.
In India, Microsoft is collaborating with one of the largest health organizations in the country, Apollo Hospitals, to develop an AI-focused network aimed at tackling cardiovascular disease, which contributes to nearly one-third of deaths worldwide. In India alone, nearly three million heart attacks happen annually, and it is estimated that 30 million Indians suffer from coronary disease.
By bringing together Microsoft’s AI expertise and Apollo Hospitals’ experience and knowledge in the field of cardiology, this partnership aims to develop new machine learning models to predict patient risk for heart diseases and assists doctors with treatment plans.
These are just some of the amazing benefits that AI is bringing to our lives, though it’s clear that we are still in a nascent stage of its development. The story of AI is still unfolding, and I am confident that the chapters we read will be supported by positive, impactful anecdotes. After all, with AI, we are not just amplifying human ingenuity, but the qualities that make us human: Our caring. Our curiosity. Our collective desire to create a better tomorrow.