How AI can impact developing countries: positives and negatives

How AI can impact developing countries: positives and negatives

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a widely-debated issue for decades but it is now gaining even more attention with the recent advent of its real-world use. There are differing opinions about what AI may hold for the future with some focusing on the potential opportunities while others highlight the possible disruptions it may cause globally. Nevertheless, it is widely recognized that AI holds immense potential and will have a significant impact on the world, with PwC even predicting that the global economy will rise by 14% thanks to AI alone.

While developed countries largely promote the use of AI to boost growth, experts have warned that artificial intelligence could widen the gap between the developing and the developed world. However, although developing countries are often more vulnerable to technological disruptions, technology is also the area where they could experience the most positive end results.

We will discuss some sectors of the developing world where AI is expected to have an immediate effect.

Potential positive effects of AI on developing countries

AI holds huge potential to help developing countries to tackle issues in crucial areas.

Firstly, in terms of healthcare systems, with the rise of AI and the available data which is critical to it, an increasing number of doctors could start to integrate this technology into their work, giving them the opportunity to treat more patients more efficiently. AI can help doctors around the world in the decision-making process by helping them to identify a disease and to provide the best possible treatment for it. This would be particularly important for the developing world where there is a shortage of specialized education and medical expertise. A good example of this is Clinicas de Azucar, a company that operates in Mexico which, according to the World Bank, is already capable of analyzing the data of thousands of diabetic patients in order to improve their health.

AI can also be a useful tool to compare medical product prices which can be very important for the populations of developing countries where purchasing necessary medicines may be a problem due to a lack of finances. One such tool is already being used in India, helping customers to make informed choices by giving them access to information about medical products at various prices from different laboratories.

Some developing countries also face the issue of providing medical services to remote areas but, with the help of AI tools that are able to process medical data and provide relevant diagnosis and treatment methods, there is the potential to eliminate the issue of distance to a certain degree.

Apart from the healthcare sector, AI can also prove vital in assisting educational systems in emerging countries by helping teachers to better plan the study process and select appropriate learning approaches. There is also potential for study methods to be adapted and tailored to students’ needs. Customized study plans could become possible by, for example, processing a large dataset of students’ grades that can help schools to identify any gaps and increase efforts to address these.

See also: What is Artificial Intelligence and how does it interact within the education sector?

AI could assist in the fields of infrastructure and energy too. For example, according to the World Bank, start-up businesses all over the world are already combining 3D printing with AI technologies to build low-budget houses. This can be particularly helpful for those parts of the world where communities face housing problems.

There are also real-world scenarios for AI use in the energy sector. One such example is the service provided by Azuri Technologies in 12 African countries where, according to the World Bank, their charging systems are able to optimize electricity consumption for households by “learning home energy needs and adjusting power output accordingly by automatically dimming lights, slowing fans, or managing how quickly devices are charged”.

Agriculture is another field where AI can bring positive effects for the developing world. For example, more accurate weather forecasts thanks to a higher quality of data and data processing can help local producers to plan their farming more effectively. As well as weather forecasting, AI could be used to identify those plants that are best suited for certain areas, to select the right pesticides, or to design irrigation systems. These opportunities not only lead to increased yields and profits but also to food security and waste reduction.

Potential negative impacts of AI on the developing world

According to International Monetary Fund (IMF), the rise of AI could lead to a widening of the gap between rich and poor nations across several different channels. In particular, an IMF study found that, given the higher wages in advanced economies, the motivation to replace the workforce with new technologies is stronger there which results in a higher demand for investment in robotics rather than traditional aspects of the economy. According to the IMF, this in turn may cause the diversion of investments from developing countries to advanced economies, “thus resulting in a transitional decline in GDP in the developing country”.

This study also found that the area where AI is expected to have the most effect in the developing world is the job market. The manpower of emerging countries has long been used by advanced economies for outsourcing purposes, mainly in manufacturing and logistics among other types of services.

See also: 5 jobs that Artificial Intelligence could soon replace

Of the outsourced sectors, manufacturing is believed to be where the impact of AI will be immediate as the skills required can soon be automated by robotics, resulting in potential job losses on a large scale. However, AI may also impact services that involve more creativity which are not automatic, for instance, the customer support sector which has long utilized outsourcing.

Another potential negative impact, although not immediate, is the lack of access to AI solutions in the developing world. For example, according to International Telecommunication Union, in Africa, only 40% of the population uses the internet, while the figure for least-developed and landlocked developing countries stands at 36%. Since AI is data-driven and needs a constant online connection, in the long run, the lack of access to the internet could result in certain parts of the world being isolated from the technological advances that AI is expected to bring.

Source: Oxford Insights

AI’s disruptive potential could also be affected by how developing countries treat the issue. According to Oxford Insight’s Government AI Index 2022, emerging countries significantly lag behind advanced economies in terms of how AI-prepared they are at a national level. Given the fact that emerging countries could be very much more affected by the potential of AI, a lack of preparedness could further increase the possible negative impacts on them. 

See also: A short guide on how AI can be ethically applied in the development sector