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  • Could standards help unleash the potential of AI in the low income countries?

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    Ben Hedley

    Could standards help unleash the potential of AI in the low income countries?

    Artificial intelligence (AI) provides an interesting insight into the relationship between standards and policies. AI is purported to be an historic game changer in the way that the arrival of the railway or the internet was: a force that changes the way we do everything from government to business to running an individual household.

    When this kind of change takes place, policies and standards both play an important role in ensuring that adoption of the technology is done in a way that manages risk while supporting innovation. Standards can be ussed as a powerful tool to support Policy objectives. 


    The potential of AI for emerging economies

    AI could have a radical impact on developing countries around the world, as a recent Economist article points out. Some of the most intractable challenges could be addressed by AI, for example:

    ●      AI chatbots could help to teach children in hard-to-reach places, reducing the workload of overstretched teachers and making learning more engaging;

    ●      Making up skilled labour shortages in specialist areas like engineering and medicine through automation of tasks such as scan assessment;

    ●      Provision of health advice in places where healthcare services are hard to access;

    ●      Giving low-cost training to workers in critical industries;

    ●      Gathering data on agricultural land to help make farming more efficient and productive;

    ●      Generating data about issues like population density to help inform government and charity activities;

    ●      Automation of form-filling bureaucracy that can be time-consuming and limits opportunities for people with low literacy.


    These are just a few of the potential ways that AI could help to make populations in developing countries healthier, better educated and better informed, improving quality of life and addressing global inequalities.


    The challenge of new technology

    The adoption of AI will be shaped by many factors. The technology comes with risks and challenges as well as opportunities. Governments around the world are grappling with the legislation, regulation and policies that will enable benefits to be harnessed, while minimizing risks. Policies might include establishing organizations to promote the use of AI, investment in infrastructure, funding programmes and more.


    Policy decisions require a country’s politicians to make decisions about the direction they want to take. This includes how far technology should be implemented in exchange for anticipated benefits, and where to place restrictions due to aspects such as data privacy or business continuity.

    In contrast, standards distil consensus opinion about the best way to do something. As a recent Commonwealth Standards Network (CSN) paper states, standards are typically independent of government but may form part of an overall landscape shaped by government policy. So for example, if government policy states that use of AI must place curbs on how private data should be stored and processed, standards can step in with guidance on how that goal can be achieved.


    Standards and Regulations can support each other

    As the CSN paper explains, good standards practices work in combination with good regulatory practices to provide a framework for progress.


    In the case of AI, standards might assist with:

    ●      Providing a framework for managing risk;

    ●      Setting out best practice in data controls;

    ●      Establishment of shared definitions of key concepts;

    ●      Enabling participation in regional and global markets.


    To find out more, take a look at our Executive Summary on the role of standards in supporting policy.


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