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Artificial Intelligence in the Global South (AI4D): Potential and Risks

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Abstract

Artificial intelligence is becoming more widely available in all parts of the world. This has created many previously unforeseen possibilities for addressing the challenges outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals in the Global South. However, the use of AI in such contexts brings with it a unique set of risks and challenges. Among these are the potential for Governments to use such technologies to suppress their own people, and the ethical questions arising from implementing AI primarily designed and developed in the Global North into vastly different social, cultural, and political environments in the Global South. This paper examines the key issues and questions arising in the emerging sub-field of AI for global development (AI4D) and the potential and risks associated with using such technologies in the Global South. We propose that although there are many risks associated with the use of AI, the potential benefits are enough to warrant detailed research and investigation of the most appropriate and effective ways to design, develop, implement, and use such technologies in the Global South. We conclude by calling for the wider ICT4D community to continue to conduct detailed research and investigation of all aspects of AI4D.
IFIP Working Group 9.4: Implications of Information and Digital Technologies for Development
IFIP 9.4 2021 1st Virtual Conference
Conference Theme: Resilient ICT4D
May 25th 28th, 2021
Proceedings
Edited by Silvia Masiero and Petter Nielsen
Wall et al. AI4D: Potential & Risks
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH (AI4D):
POTENTIAL AND RISKS
P. J. Wall, ADAPT Centre, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, pj.wall@tcd.ie
Deepak Saxena - BITS Pilani, India, deepak.saxena@pilani.bits-pilani.ac.in
Suzana Brown- SUNY Korea, South Korea, suzana.brown@sunykorea.ac.kr
Abstract: Artificial intelligence is becoming more widely available in all parts of the world. This
has created many previously unforeseen possibilities for addressing the challenges
outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals in the Global South. However, the use
of AI in such contexts brings with it a unique set of risks and challenges. Among these
are the potential for Governments to use such technologies to suppress their own people,
and the ethical questions arising from implementing AI primarily designed and
developed in the Global North into vastly different social, cultural, and political
environments in the Global South. This paper examines the key issues and questions
arising in the emerging sub-field of AI for global development (AI4D) and the potential
and risks associated with using such technologies in the Global South. We propose that
although there are many risks associated with the use of AI, the potential benefits are
enough to warrant detailed research and investigation of the most appropriate and
effective ways to design, develop, implement, and use such technologies in the Global
South. We conclude by calling for the wider ICT4D community to continue to conduct
detailed research and investigation of all aspects of AI4D.
Keywords: Artificial intelligence, AI, technology, Global South, AI4D
1. INTRODUCTION
The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) is generally accepted to have been first used at a conference in
19561. Over the years there have been many definitions of AI, with perhaps the most widely
accepted being by Rich (1985) who posited AI as the study of how to make computers do things
which, at the moment, people are better. AI typically uses pattern recognition, reasoning, and
defined problems, and the need for in-situ solutions (Venkatasubramanian, 2019). AI has been used
in many fields over the last three decades including the natural and physical sciences, computer
science, engineering, natural language processing, and medicine. It is widely accepted that AI is
advancing rapidly, and there is currently a great deal of interest in the commercial potential of AI.
The impact of AI will undoubtably be significant and highly disruptive in many industries including
finance, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, supply chain, logistics, and agriculture.
AI is also likely to have a significant impact on the Global South, providing new and unforeseen
opportunities to address many of the problems in healthcare, education, and social services common
in such resource-constrained environments. The aspiration in many low-income countries is to
leverage AI in order to achieve transformation by changing underlying systems of development and
1https://courses.cs.washington.edu/courses/csep590/06au/projects/history-ai.pdf
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towards inclusion by addressing both the symptoms and causes of inequality. These technologies
are bound to have the potential to empower individuals and communities, leading to greater social
change, an improved quality of life, and strengthened public health and education systems.
However, the increased use of AI in the Global South is also likely to bring with it many potential
risks and challenges. Among these risks are that Governments will use such technologies
inappropriately to monitor and suppress their own populations, perhaps even going so far as to use
AI-based weapons for conflict and war. In addition, ethical questions are bound to arise as AI
designed and developed in the Global North is expected to be used in hugely different social, cultural
and political contexts in the Global South. This is likely to raise concerns around the potential to
exacerbate digital inequalities and further embed notions of digital colonialism in the Global South
(Kwet, 2019).
The main purpose of this paper is to initiate a discussion about the potential and risks of AI in the
Global South. The objective is to present a broad overview of the topic which will provide a starting
point for future discussion and research on what is bound to become a key sub-field in ICT4D over
the coming years. The paper proceeds as follows: Firstly, we discuss the potential of AI and
associated technologies in the Global South. This is followed by consideration of the risks
associated with such technologies in this context. We conclude with our thoughts on the current
state of the AI4D sub-field, and we make a call for additional research in order to expand our
knowledge on this important topic.
2. THE POTENTIAL OF AI IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH
The increasing use and potential of AI in the Global South has been predicted for many years (e.g.
Wall et al., 2013; Zheng et al., 2018), with a variety of emerging potentialities for AI and other
advanced technologies which should be embraced (Walsham 2012). AI may be envisaged as a
these models to achieve specific objectives, incorporating flexible adaptation (Kaplan & Haenlein,
2019). AI does influence a large part of modern life in the Global North, having daily impact on
who we interact with on social networks, the movies and TV we watch, the music we listen to, and
the route we take when driving to work or school. Such AI does not work in isolation; they collect
data using other advanced technologies and complement others with their decision-making
capabilities. Beyond technology, the use of AI is influenced by human actors and policy/regulatory
infrastructure. In that sense, AI may be seen as complex socio-technical assemblage (Cantrell &
Zhang, 2018)
One of the most controversial uses of AI is in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drones.
Applications of drones in the Global South are mainly restricted to delivery vehicles in agriculture
and healthcare. However, drones are being increasingly used as weapons and tools for monitoring
and surveillance in both international and domestic law enforcement. However, drones can also be
used for wildlife preservation and scientific research. Another potentially AI-related advanced
technology gaining use in the Global South is the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is an
interconnection between the physical object and the digital world. Kevin Ashton defined IoT in
1999 as a set of ordinary objects combined with the sensors and Radio Frequency Identification
Technology (RFID), which provides an infrastructure to uniquely identify and link physical objects
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to their virtual representations on the Internet2. The IoT is an integral part of the future Internet
ecosystem which is likely to have a huge impact on healthcare and education in the Global South
over the coming years.
Perhaps the most important potential of AI-enabled technology in the Global South is in the area of
smart or precision agriculture for increasing crop productivity (Ampatzidis et al., 2020). This is
especially important for countries where a large portion of people earn their living from agriculture.
Drones can be used for aerial observation, sensing, and the spraying of pesticides, and various IoT
sensors can provide real-time data on farms that enable farmers to make informed decisions
regarding farm inputs usage. The data thus collected can be uploaded to the cloud for further
analysis regarding the suitability of a crop in a particular region at a particular time of the year.
Drones can also be used for surveying and mapping forests and biodiversity and can therefore help
in conservation, as well as the accurate prediction of potential fires or floods based on the analysis
of past data. For instance, Dutta et al., (2016) analyse data from various sources and provide a
highly accurate estimates on bush-fire incidence in Australia. Such estimates can be used in
planning mitigation and early evacuation, with the potential of this technology being particularly
relevant in the Global South.
Also of relevance is the way AI is being used in intelligent energy management. IoTs can help in
managing the entire energy lifecycle including power generation, power transmission, power
distribution, and demand side management (Zhou et al., 2016). The data collected from various IoT
devices (e.g., power grid equipment, GIS, weather sensors) can be uploaded to the cloud where
power generation companies can run complex simulations and forecast power requirements. Data
collected from IoT sensors may also be used for fault detection, electric device health monitoring,
predictive maintenance, and power quality monitoring (Zheng et al., 2018).
Widespread adoption of these AI-based technologies will be facilitated by the roll out of fibre and
4G networks which is currently taking place across much of the Global South. This, combined with
cheap and powerful smartphones built specifically for the African market, raises the possibility that
AI has the potential to become more ubiquitous in such resource-constrained settings. Over the
coming years advances in this technology will mean that AI will be able to do more, with this being
particularly true in the field of healthcare where remote diagnosis of various medical conditions and
diseases, faster and more reliable transfer of larger amounts of data, more sophisticated monitoring
and control of data and the ability to conduct a variety of advanced medical scans with a mobile
phone becoming a likelihood. An example of this is the acceleration sensors inbuilt within the phone
which will enable patients and health workers to interact more closely, and mobile apps with the
potential to produce and manage considerable amounts of data by using the camera and various
other measuring and sensing devices to automate the logging of personal health states (Benferdia &
Zakaria 2014). It is also suggested that future possibilities for AI and healthcare in the Global South
include remote diagnosis and crowd sourcing for health (Latif, Rana et al. 2017), more big, open,
and real-time data, the use of field sensors and embedded computing, more social media, more
crowd-sourcing models, and 3D printing (Heeks 2014).
2https://www.rfidjournal.com/that-internet-of-things-thing
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3. RISKS OF AI IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH
Despite the huge potential of AI in the Global South, there exists a less pleasant future agenda which
Zhe
and control, which includes big data, social media, and cloud computing. Such applications of the
technology will further enhance the capacity of authorities and commercial entities to access a wide
variety of personal data. Zheng (2018) makes the claim that there has been little discussion on this
important issue to date, and on the implications of AI4D which may be controlled more frequently
by capital and commercial interests in future. In addition, there is the possibility that such
technology will be used by governments to enforce their ideologies and maintain control of
populations in a variety of ways. This is particularly relevant as the application of AI may have a
dramatic effect on many countries in the Global South (Zheng et al., 2018).
Furthermore, although AI is potentially beneficial, it is currently expensive to develop and
implement. This cost of implementing such advanced technologies is the biggest risk for resource-
constrained countries in the Global South. While AI has the potential to help in precision agriculture
and forest preservations, the initial infrastructure cost is huge when compared to the cost of more
traditional methods. This is where the role of technology companies and transnational organizations
comes into play; such organizations may need to provide some basic infrastructure to support low-
income countries in the short run to create a market in the longer run.
Another example of potential risk is the implementation of AI-based sensors, robots and other
devices on farms that may cause harm to farm animals and external wildlife (Ryan, 2019). These
devices could upset, injure, or even kill livestock and local wildlife. Many of the devices also have
the potential to emit toxic material, fumes, and waste into their surrounding environment. An
additional concern is that AI algorithms may exclude the land external to the farm and therefore
cause adverse effects to the general environment (Antle, et al., 2015) such as an encroachment on
habitats or general pollution. Therefore, the ecological and social effects of AI implementation in
agriculture are significant (Kosier 2017) and should not be ignored.
In addition, many AI algorithms are opaque and often beyond human understanding (Hagras, 2018;
Mackenzie, 2019). Undifferentiated use of such AI, particularly AI which has been trained on data
from countries in the Global South, may result in the loss of opportunities (e.g., rejection of a
mortgage or a parole) for some in the Global South. Moreover, drones have the potential to cause
injuries and damage to people and properties if used incorrectly or unethically. This is partly due to
the absence of a legal and governance framework across the Global South. Even in the Global
North, where there are some guidelines (e.g., EU guidelines on trustworthy AI), these risks persist.
4. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
The transformative potential of AI and other advanced technologies, combined with the existing
critical mass of technological infrastructure, might inspire some to be optimistic about the prospects
for AI in the Global South. However, many are pessimistic as it has previously proven to be difficult
to implement, sustain and scale any type of technology for global development projects. Indeed,
Heeks (2018 most ICT4D projects fail
such projects prove to have either limited or unsustainable impacts on development (Chipidza &
Leidner 2019). Similar issues are bound to apply to implementing, using, sustaining, and scaling
AI in the Global South.
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This raises the obvious question as to how it might be possible to successfully design, develop,
implement, and use AI and other advanced technologies in the Global South. Considering AI as
assemblage, one way to achieve this may be through the adoption of a transdisciplinary or
multidisciplinary perspectives in AI4D research (Walsham, 2017, Zheng, et al., 2018). Such an
approach involves welcoming other disciplines with open arms (Walsham, 2012) and with respect
(Walsham, 2017). This is important because it will expand the ICT4D field of study into many non-
traditional settings (Walsham, 2012). According to both Zheng and Walsham, such linkages should
be developed between ICT4D and the fields of computer science, development studies, ethics,
anthropology, human geography, development economics and rural development. These links are
needed as the nature of the sub-field of AI4D and the technologies being used are dynamically
evolving, with social media, AI and the IoT (Zheng et al., 2018), as well as mobile sensing devices
to automate the logging of personal health states (Benferdia & Zakaria, 2014), crowdsourcing for
health (Heeks, 2014; Latif, Rana et al., 2017), increasing amounts of big data, open data and real-
time data becoming more common in the Global South.
Also of relevance to this discussion is the claim that there has been a significant amount of
reinvention of the wheel in ICT4D research (Zheng, et al. 2018), with new entrants to the field
tending to neglect earlier research simply because technologies have changed rapidly. This is a
mistake which should not be repeated in our work with AI4D. Taking stock of ICT4D research and
capitalising on existing knowledge would appear to be vital and may also enable the AI4D field to
move forward quicker without repeating earlier pitfalls (Zheng, et al., 2018).
Based on what we have presented in this paper we conclude that although there are many risks
associated with the use of AI and other advanced technologies in the Global South, the potential
benefits of these technologies are enough to warrant us to be cautiously optimistic. However, we
recommend proceeding with caution so as not to repeat previous mistakes which have resulted in
most ICT4D projects failing or underachieving. We are hopeful that this will be achieved by
adopting the transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspectives as espoused by Geoff Walsham
and others.
We conclude this short paper by making a call for the IFIP WG 9.4 community, as well as the wider
ICT4D community, to continue to conduct detailed research and investigation of all aspects of AI4D.
In particular, the emphasis should focus on a study of the most appropriate and effective ways to
design, develop, implement, and use AI and other advanced technologies in the Global South, and
the broader ethical implications associated with the use of such advanced technologies in this
context.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This research was partially conducted at the ADAPT SFI Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin.
The ADAPT SFI Centre for Digital Content Technology is funded by Science Foundation Ireland
through the SFI Research Centres Programme and is co-funded under the European Regional
Development Fund (ERDF) through Grant #13/RC/2106_P2.
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