Technology has been a lifeline to developing countries during the COVID-19 crisis, helping to maintain essential services and keep companies in business. It has also offered a glimpse of a brighter future, one in which gains in income and employment are driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence.
Even before the pandemic, commercial uses for AI were expanding rapidly in emerging markets, in fields ranging from manufacturing and energy to education and financial services. The necessary lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed by countries have accelerated that trend. Companies like Clinicas de Azucar in Mexico are using AI to analyze data and improve health outcomes for thousands of at-risk diabetic patients. In India, 1mg uses AI to help customers compare prices for medical services from different labs.
A multinational conglomerate uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to gather intelligence about the news you peruse, social media activity, and shopping preferences. They choose the ads you passively consume on your newsfeed and throughout your social media accounts, your internet searches, and even the music you hear, creating an incrementally increasingly customized version of reality specifically for you. Your days are subtly influenced by marketers, behavioral scientists, and mathematicians armed with cloud supercomputers. All of this is done in the name of maximizing profit to influence what you’re thinking, buying, and whom you will be electing…
What is your role within the World Bank?
In 2016, I moved from the Netherlands to work as a consultant with the Information & Technology Solutions (ITS) Department, which delivers transformative information technologies to World Bank Group staff. I am a core team member of the newly launched Technology & Innovation Lab that experiments with innovative technologies that have the potential to improve the World Bank Group’s internal operations and operational work in client countries. We are developing use cases and proof of concepts for the use of blockchain technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in areas like health, cross-border payments, agriculture, and land administration, among others. I support the Innovation Leads by meeting with clients and performing business analysis for each use case, but I also lead some external partnerships with experienced leaders in this area, like the Dutch Blockchain Coalition. It has been an exciting journey and incredible experience to work with a close and diverse team in exploring these new technologies together with different units across the World Bank Group.
Development work is getting more technologically sophisticated by the day. The World Bank’s Information and Technology Solutions (ITS) department recently started an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Initiative. At the launch event, we explored the role of AI in development and what it might mean for the work that we do here at the Bank. In short: AI is already here, international organizations have an important role to play, and we need to invest in our skills and expertise.