DWS 2018: The Potential of AI to Accelerate Global Development

3 minute read

Artificial Intelligence (AI) amplifies the ability of humans to do more with less. This inherent functionality will prove invaluable to global development efforts. During her presentation at DWS 2018, Executive Director of UNOPS Grete Faremo explored AI’s potential impact on development.

AI really could change the world for the better

IPsoft Digital Workforce SummitOne of the most intriguing promises of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is its potential for amplification. Intelligent automation allows a few individuals to match the productivity of many. This inherent ability to magnify productivity makes these technologies an obvious choice for enterprises, but might also prove invaluable in the area of global development.

“We don't even use the word AI in the UN. We talk about frontier technologies. We are using terms like transformative, paradigm shift, the fourth industrial revolution,” explained The Honorable Grete Faremo, Executive Director for the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) during her presentation at DWS 2018. “These technologies have the potential to deliver real and meaningful changes not only in the future of work, but to the future of our societies. And we're trying to see how these technologies can help deliver a more sustainable future.”

Challenges associated with global development can seem overwhelming. The United Nations has isolated 17 development goals as part of its sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved by 2030 in areas ranging from poverty to social justice to the environment.

Grete Faremo, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project ServicesThese technologies have the potential to deliver real and meaningful changes not only in the future of work, but to the future of our societies. And we’re trying to see how these technologies can help deliver a more sustainable future.

— Grete Faremo, Executive Director, UNOPS

In addition to empowering development organizations to do more with less, AI technologies can be a powerful analytical tool. By processing massive amounts of data in meaningful and efficient ways, AI can help organizations accurately predict things like the path of storms, the spread of diseases, and trends in criminal activity — all things that can hit developing communities the hardest, and which might be mitigated with technologically-guided foresight.

These are very bold goals, but ones that face an uphill battle in regards to resources, where estimates for necessary investments for things like basic infrastructure, food security, and educational challenges range from $3.3 trillion to $4.5 trillion annually. When you consider that the UN’s official development aid budget is only $150 billion, it becomes obvious that a new strategy is needed to address these issues. And this is where AI-fueled amplification can be of service.

“When funding is such a critical challenge, it's even more important to make the best use of the resources available. This requires focus on innovation, on finding new ways of being more effective, being more efficient, and many studies suggest AI will outperform humans in many activities in the near future,” Faremo told the DWS audience. “Can [AI technologies] deliver smarter, better, and faster services as well as jobs? Can automation allow us more time to focus on quality and how to solve core needs and services, and even enhance the meaning behind an impact of our work? The potential is undeniable.”


Whether the goal is to make enterprises more productive or create more opportunities for communities in need, AI solutions are a vital tool for change. “Standing here today from the UN when I hear others talk, I immediately jump to the role AI could play to help accelerate the achievement of the sustainable development goals. This is my focus,” Faremo said. “Given the many causes of poverty, it's clear there is no silver bullet, but when I think of the possibilities of AI, my mind immediately turns to the world of potential.”


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