When asked to think about artificial intelligence (AI), people might imagine a dystopian future where robots have taken over the world and humanity is holding on for dear life. But the reality of our future in partnership with AI looks far brighter. Big business, NGOs, charities and universities are coming together to deliver faster more efficient responses to the problems of the world using AI and this could represent a major shift in how we respond to the needs of education, migration and even disaster.

That was the take home message from the AI for Good event held by the University College Dublin Discover Institute this week, where experts from Europe and the United States discussed how AI can be harnessed to help human society.
Director of the UCD Discovery Institute Professor Patricia Maguire said, “AI can provide a series of tools and approaches that have the potential to help non-profit organisations become more effective – doing more for less. This is a game changer when it comes to big operations. Of course, AI has its own challenges, from solution design and modelling, to technology implementation and ethics but that’s why we invited such eminent speakers to UCD. We want
to hear about real world examples where AI is saving lives and effort.”

The UCD Institute for Discovery sees AI as crucial in terms of our societal evolution, and it’s not just academics and charities pushing this, Microsoft is also taking a lead in the field. Dr Kristin Tolle, Director of their Data Science Initiative in Research Outreach told attendees that in September Microsoft and the UN General Assembly announced a new spoke to their five year AI for Good program called AI for Humanitarian Action. This new $40 million initiative is focused on using artificial intelligence in four key areas of need: disaster response, refugees
and displaced people, human rights and the needs of children. Such a major investment highlights the importance being placed not only these issues but also on how much AI represents the most efficient solution to them.

Prof Anthony Ventresque, a computer scientist at UCD working with the Science Foundation Ireland research centre LERO, is working with Microsoft and others to grow efforts to use AI for good. “Microsoft has assembled a new team of top-flight data scientists and collectively we need to work together with NGOs and people on the ground,” he said. “They are the ones with the experience to make sure that we can train the systems to answer the right questions in
times of need. Events like AI for Good at UCD and the NetHope Global Summit in the RDS present great opportunities for people to meet and start working together.”

Leila Toplic, who also spoke at the AI for Good event realises the power of combined effort. As a former refugee and refugee school teacher herself, she knows exactly what it is like to be on the ground in the middle of a crisis. “I’ve always been passionate about using technology to solve humanitarian problems, especially the global refugee crisis. Over the past 14 months, I have put that passion to work at NetHope, where I lead the No Lost Generation (NLG) Tech Task Force,” she said. “This role allows me to connect tech sector expertise and resources with the needs of the displaced children and youth. The most exciting aspect of this role is work with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and VR/AR. I serve as a subject-matter expert on a broad portfolio of technologies, evaluating the needs of the global NGOs and UN agencies and recommending best solutions to solve some of the toughest problems.”

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