Sustainable development through intelligent tools

Service delivery can be enhanced with the help of artificial intelligence

Sustainable  development through  intelligent tools


he fourth industrial revolution brought about fundamental changes to how people are expected to live and work. The world has seen rapid shifts in trends and the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence is an important aspect in this regard.

Many tasks that had previously been carried out by humans are now being automated by the AI in developed nations. In developing countries, gig economies are on the rise.

A lot of tasks that the AI can carry out do not exist in these regions. Hence, it makes more sense to adopt an alternative approach and utilise the AI to address development challenges in various sectors of the country, such as education, health, governance and business.

The incorporation of AI into the education system of developing countries, such as Pakistan is important to better equip future generations for the competitive job markets. The recent announcement by Google to set up 50 AI-equipped smart schools in the federal capital in collaboration with a local partner is a promising move that will set a trend for incorporating the AI in schools.

While the private sector schools will face little to no difficulty in such a transition, the public sector institutes might lack the capacity to take up such initiatives on their own. This will create gaps in the education sector instead of making it an inclusive one. Hence, it is important that the government and its development partners collaborate on this. In this regard, public-private partnerships can be beneficial for less-privileged students studying in public sector institutions.

Pakistan must also look towards China as an example since the Chinese have mapped out a comprehensive AI strategy for education. They have also started using the AI in classrooms.

The health sector in developing nations like Pakistan has immense room for improvement with the help of the AI. While the AI has been used for some aspects such as disease modelling analysis to help tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, there are other areas in the sector that can greatly benefit from the latest innovations and technologies.

Chatbots that use AI technology have been developed in Kenya that answer questions about sexual and reproductive health while ensuring confidentiality of the users, thereby reducing the need for consultation with human doctors. Sexual and reproductive health is a taboo topic in Pakistan as well.

Many women in the country find it difficult to seek such information as they are either not allowed to visit doctors regarding such issues or specialists, especially female ones, are not available. Having chatbots can bring about improvement in the sexual and reproductive health of men as well as women in Pakistan. This will, in turn, lead to the use of AI in other segments of the health sector as well.

Pakistan faces multifaceted challenges pertaining to governance. One of those is empowering the local governments for development work at the grassroots level. Leveraging AI technologies has the potential to transform the governance landscape of the country. Automating administrative tasks such as data collection can help free up local government officials and allow them to engage in others matters.

Service delivery can also be enhanced with the help of the AI, which will, in turn, lead to more sustainable cities. This includes use of AI-powered chatbots to provide information to citizens and address their grievances in a timely manner and alert LG officials regarding urgent matters that require their attention. AI-powered mechanisms could also be used for tasks like waste management and collection. There are successful models in this regards that can be studied for inspiration. These include the Intelligent Government Master Plan in South Korea and the UAE National Strategy for AI 2031.

The business sector entities, particularly the SME and startup ecosystems, have great potential when it comes to bringing about a positive impact on the economy with the help of AI. Pakistan is an emerging market for various AI-based startups.

As opposed to conventional businesses, startups that involve AI-based technologies are more sustainable. A report published by Deutsche Welle in Germany recently declared Pakistan Asia’s big tech startup market. Some AI-based startups operating successfully in Pakistan are Orbit, Aqua Agro and eListGuy. However, access to data is a major barrier due to the trust deficit between public and private sectors.

Consequently, many data-driven startups are unable to thrive in the country. There is a great need for the government to introduce policies that make the environment conducive for tech-based startups in Pakistan. In this regard, relevant public sector entities, such as the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication, the Competition Commission of Pakistan, the Federal Investigation Agency and Bureau of Statistics need to play proactive roles.

The use of artificial intelligence to ensure sustainable development in various sectors is the need of the hour. While many institutions in the private sector have been seen to take a proactive approach and incorporate the AI in their operations, a more holistic approach is needed for systemic changes.

It is also important for the government to maintain liaisons with its development partners and introduce development projects that use the AI to overcome the current and future challenges. The advantages and benefits of using the AI for sustainable development outweigh the risks and drawbacks.

The writer is a research associate at the Economic Growth Unit, Sustainable Development Policy Institute

Sustainable development through intelligent tools