Boosting Pakistan With Artificial Intelligence

One thinks of Artificial intelligence (AI) as robots walking on the streets or driverless cars waiting for passengers out of a five-star hotel. It is true to some extent but it is a very tiny subset of AI at large. Today, the world is turning AI into human services, where we can harness AI to promote the socioeconomic development and enhance the life quality of disadvantaged populations, including those within developing countries.

AI is becoming an important part of the daily lives of people living in developed countries. From smart phone’s built-in assistants to drone deliveries from Amazon, AI is in their homes, offices, schools, hospitals and transportations.

According to the United Nations; corporations around the globe has invested between $20 billion to $30 billion in 2016 on’ research and development’ and acquisitions of AI. Tech giants such as Ali baba, Amazon, Baidu, Face book, and Google account for more than three quarters of total AI investment to date.

AI is not only meant for machine automation. Developing countries like Pakistan can take a huge benefit by leveraging the power of AI to process massive amount of raw data which is being collected from various sources every day. Now you must be wondering how data processing could help Pakistan improve its economy or safe lives? Here are a few use cases of AI that I believe can have a huge impact in developing countries.

Disaster Relief

In October 2005, an earthquake shook Pakistan; over 86,000 people were killed, more than 69,000 were injured with extensive damage in northern Pakistan. In case of such disaster, the first step is to formulate a critical response team to help those in distress. The analysis of damages and identification of those who need the most is as important as the compilation of a response team. There are many techniques which are used in AI to recognize images, classification of images, identification of objects and their features. In this case, AI in conjunction with satellites could have processed it in minutes which actually took months to be sorted manually.

In America and European countries almost all emergency response departments use Heat Map. Heat maps are very helpful for government and other humanitarian agencies in deciding where to conduct aerial assessments. Using AI and machine learning (ML) techniques, data, which comes from different sources such as Google, crowd-sourced mapping and social media, is processed to produce a reliable heat map. These heat maps can identify areas in need of urgent assistance and direct relief efforts to those areas.

Using Social Media for Disaster Management

AI and a predictive analytical engine can be used to process raw digital data coming from Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to provide early warnings, ground-level location data, and real-time report verification. AI has many tools which could be utilize to separate real information from fake ones. These vital stats can help on-the-ground aid workers to reach the point of crisis sooner and direct their efforts to the needy. AI for Digital Response (AIDR) is a free and open platform which uses machine intelligence to automatically filter and classify social media messages related to emergencies, disasters, and humanitarian crises. For this, it uses a Collector and a Tagger. The Collector helps in collecting and filtering tweets using keywords and hash tags such as “earthquake” and “#flood”, for example. The Tagger is a topic-filter which classifies tweets or posts by topics of interest, such as “Damage Houses,” and “Donations”, for example. The Tagger automatically applies the classifier to incoming tweets or posts collected in real-time using the Collector.

AI to boost Agriculture

If you ask a former about the ‘spirit of agriculture’, one answer you will get around the world, is ‘timing’. For an agriculture country like Pakistan, smart forming is the way to go. AI can facilitate formers to monitor crops more effectively and make better predictions on planting, weeding and harvesting. For example, AI can analyze one plant at a time and add pesticides only to infected plants and trees instead of spraying pesticides across large swaths of crops. One California-based tech company is an example of this use of AI.

It might surprise you that our neighboring country, India, has good AI integrated agriculture system. Using AI’s agriculture related tools such as Crop and Soil Monitoring, Predictive Agricultural Analytics and Supply Chain Efficiencies, farmers in rural parts of India are using AI to increase yields through better access to information about the farming season. For them, it is not only increases yields but it also cuts down the labor costs and improves people’s health.

Medicine and First Air Delivery

Many developing countries are using AI to provide basic medical aid to the remote areas where patients access is a challenge. In Rwanda, for example, Zip line, a drone company equipped with AI, is using drones to deliver medical supplies and blood to hospitals and clinics that are difficult to access by car. This has dramatically impacted people living in remote parts of the country because they are able to get medical help when needed. The drone system in Rwanda has also helped reduce waste of blood by 95 percent, as noted by Zip line. Another company, One Concern, is also providing similar services to predict seismic events and solutions for floods, wildfires and hurricanes. In my opinion, the medical field may benefit the most from emerging technologies in developing countries.

AI and Education

According to Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by 2025, literacy rate will be 90 percent but the fact is, over 20 million children still out of school indicates that Pakistan clearly lags behind it. In most rural parts of Pakistan, most of the students have to walk long distances to get to the nearest school, which is one of the reasons for huge education gaps.  We all agree on a fact that there are thousands of things that a human tutor can offer which machines can’t, at least not yet, but the future could see more students being tutored by tutors. AI tools such as personalized learning assistants can simplify learning by making tutoring services and learning materials accessible to all students, wherever they are. Machines can be automated to help students learn basic concepts without a tutor. Some tutoring programs based on AI already exist and can help students through basic mathematics, writing, and other subjects.

AI Initiatives in Pakistan

Pakistan’s information technology has done a great deal of work regarding AI. Under the supervision of Higher Education Commission (HEC), government of Pakistan has allocated Rs1.1 billion for the period of three years to initiate a project on IA. Six universities including, NUST, Comsats Institute of Information Technology (CIIT) University, NED UET Karachi, University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Peshawar, UET Lahore and University of Punjab, Lahore have been selected to work on this initiative. This project’s headquarter, NUST, has setup two labs for Intelligent Robotics and Deep Learning. Similarly, CIIT University will be setting up Medical Imaging and Diagnostic Lab, NED UET Karachi will build a Smart City and Neuro Computation Labs. UET Lahore is also taking a lead to setup an Intelligent Criminology Lab whereas Punjab University will be establishing an Agent Based Computational Modeling Lab.

Even though we can’t compete with US or China on academic investment but, in the next five years, if Pakistan successfully develops an infrastructure and workforce for AI, we can bid for dominating in a few areas of AI

“Not only that, each of six universities will offer Masters and PhD programs in these fields and every lab will be equipped with state of the art equipment. A total of 36 PhD doctors from the relevant fields will be working with these labs as it is compulsory for each lab to have one in charge and three sub-in charges.”, said Dr. Yasir Ayaz from National University of Science and Technology (NUST) who is heading this project. He further informed that each university will initially be given Rs70 to Rs75 million to set up the lab.

In my opinion, even though we can’t compete with US or China on academic investment but, in the next five years, if Pakistan successfully develops an infrastructure and workforce for AI, we can bid for dominating in a few areas of AI. Also, for greater expansion, funding has to be extended to private companies for research and development. To achieve this objective, the public sector should work with the private sector to discover the private sector’s needs and understand its structure. When international firms see the potential positive return on the investment, they will invest in Pakistan which will eventually boost the economy.

The writer is a technology expert who is working with US government based in Washington DC. He has passion in journalism and research.

Published in Daily Times, November 17th 2018.

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