AI can drive sustainable development in Asia-Pacific. Here’s how.

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Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

AI is a group of technologies fueled by data

We often hear that data is the new oil, but data is valuable not because it is a scarce resource but because of its abundance, and ease of storing and sharing. In recent years, it has become possible to use it to derive predictive and actionable insights, thanks to new technologies and data science modeling techniques.

This ability of AI technologies to resolve complex problems such as promoting health in the megacities of the future, forecasting extreme weather, or enabling access to financial inclusion makes it a strong driver of sustainable development in Asia.


AI can help advance complex problems such as health and well-being

Recently, a team of researchers from MIT used a type of AI technology called neural networks to identify antibiotics that kill drug-resistant bacteria. Fed by large amounts of data, neural networks can be trained to find innovative answers that would require humans several decades or longer to reach. On this project, the system was trained on data about thousands of molecules, and was able to predict a potent antibiotic that was successful against a wide range of pathogens.

Asia Pacific is projected to be home to 27 of the world’s 43 megacities by 2030, and these densely populated environments may be vulnerable to drug-resistant bacteria and other types of viruses. Regional authorities have recognized such health challenges as a high priority, signing cooperation agreements to address them. Collaboration on AI research in the region would be one path to innovative solutions for complex health and well-being challenges.

Asia Pacific countries must invest in collaborative AI Data Lab projects focused on solving key challenges such as healthcare, extreme weather, and financial inclusion for a sustainable future.


Collaborative AI research can save lives by forecasting extreme weather

With extreme weather becoming more prevalent around the world, the ability to forecast dangerous instances can help drive safety and well-being. Asia Pacific is one of the regions most impacted by an increase in extreme weather. The Guy Carpenter Asia-Pacific Catastrophe Report 2017 “projects an increase in economic losses from natural disasters in Asia, which amounted to USD 126 million a day between 2006 to 2015”.

AI could help accurately predict extreme weather thanks to deep learning models trained on weather data such as surface temperature and air pressure data. The models, according to researchers at Rice University, could forecast severe weather five days in advance with 85 percent accuracy, and prevent loss of life across the Asia Pacific. Understanding and forecasting such climate change threats is a great first line of defense that can leverage the power of AI and predictive modeling at scale.


Ethical AI tools can drive bias remediation and promote financial inclusion

We are living through a paradigm shift triggered by the rise of mobile technologies, where every human has the potential to be connected. According to Statista, in 2018, there were about 1.9 billion mobile internet users in the Asia Pacific region, the internet user penetration was at 45% in 2018 and is forecast to grow to 62% by 2025.

With the right AI tools, we can promote financial inclusion by enabling everyone to access to funding for small businesses, and supporting the increase in financial literacy that would rescue families from endemic poverty.

Some companies have started using AI engines that make all decision-relevant factors visible, effectively making models transparent and potentially eliminating bias. Financial inclusion is a key enabler of poverty reduction and increases in prosperity.


A collaborative approach is the best strategy 

Asia Pacific has all the key ingredients to leverage the power of AI, such as some of the leading research centers; a young and vibrant pool of talent; highly educated and specialized researchers; and, big data derived from large populations.

A successful approach to AI is to invest in collaborative initiatives focused on solving key challenges such as healthcare, extreme weather and financial inclusion to promote learning and enabling all partners across the Asia Pacific to develop the core foundations to succeed together.

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Meri Rosich PhD

Lecturer, Big Data Strategy and Global Management at Globis University and Temple University, Japan

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