AI for Good

Mariana Monteiro
Feb 20, 2019 · 4 min read

Artificial Intelligence is the science of using computers to do things that traditionally required the human mind. It is, as we all know (and fear), a technology that will accelerate innovation in different industries, policies and businesses faster than what humans could ever predict. It goes without saying the complexity and ethical issues that might arise when IoT is greater than humans, but today’s topic is on social good.

“Artificial intelligence is continuing to evolve rapidly … and has enormous potential for social good … AI has great potential to advance the sustainable development goals and help to solve our greatest challenges.”
(, 2019)

As we all know, the world is facing serious threats regarding sustainability. By 2050, the worlds population will be up to 9billion and there is no clear answer on how to provide clean water, sustainable energy and education for that number of people. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda, adopted by United Nations Member States in 2015, provides 17 clear goals for a sustainable future (, 2019). They very from achieving gender equality, empowerment of all women and girls, end of poverty or ensuring access to clean water. Machine Learning can offer exciting possibilities supporting the challenges humanity faces ahead, not only by helping humans predict and response to what the future might bring, but also by helping the current 7billion world population to benefit from AI in a practical way.

“This is the problem: Although AI has the potential to take humanitarian response to the 21st century and transform the lives of millions of people, there has been limited attention to applying it with a focus on humanitarian and developmental challenges.”
Opp, R. (2018)

Sustainable Development Goals (, 2019)

How can AI help accomplish SDG 1?

“End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” (, 2019)

AI and satellite imagery

Eradicating poverty remains the greatest global challenge will all the complexity it rises. Accomplishing this goal first starts with knowing where it occurs and can’t work without good measurements. To track progress towards SDG nr 1, it is needed more frequent and reliable data on the distribution of poverty than what traditional data collection methods can provide. The Sustainability and Artificial Intelligence Lab, at Stanford University, proposes an approach that combines Ai with high-resolution satellite imagery around the world to provide new data on socioeconomic indicators of poverty and wealth.

Estimated daily per capita expenditure, 2012–2015 (Anon, 2019)

“People are coming up with potential policies and interventions. But if you can’t measure your progress toward your goals, how do you know these policies are even effective?”
Jean, N (2018)

AI and agriculture

Agricultural practices reduce by average 52% of poverty in developing countries, comparing to other income sources. Ending poverty it’s a long term challenge that can only be sustainable when those who are suffering it from it can contribute to its continuity. By providing poor people the right tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

FarmView is a project that combines AI with robotics to improve the agricultural yield of certain staple crops, in particular sorghum. In developing countries like India, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, this plant is a valuable cereal crop that has huge genetic potential. To make the perfect crop it is needed perfect conditions and precision is a slow and time-consuming process. Robots and AI can are able to understand plant growth like never before, including the minute details of how genetics and environment affect plant characteristics and yield.

Farmview (Digital Trends, 2019)

As we live in a world where millions of people are fleeing war, hunger, persecution in search of safety and seeking asylum it can be seen as unethical not to use such a powerful mechanisms as AI to tackle such challenges. How can AI help predict human migration? How can AI help with disaster response? How can AI track infectious diseases and how they spread? How can AI help ending poverty? How can AI help achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agenda? How can AI…? Throughout my next posts, I will reflect on how AI is currently being used for social good and if/how it is currently meeting each one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals towards a better world.


Anon, (2019). [image] Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019].

Barkham, P. and Newell, C. (2019). In 2050 there will be 9 billion people on earth​. H​ow to feed them. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019].

Digital Trends. (2019). Carnegie Mellon Is Using Drones, Robots, And AI To Drag Farming Into The New Century | Digital Trends. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019].

ITU News. (2019). The Future of Humanitarian Response: UAVs, Chatbots, and Smart Agriculture Powered by AI. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019]. (2019). AI for Good Global Summit 2017. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019].

Jean, N (2018). [online]. Available at: /

Opp, R. (2018). /The Future of Humanitarian Response: UAVs, Chatbots, and Smart Agriculture Powered by AI/. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019]. (2019). #Envision2030: 17 goals to transform the world for persons with disabilities | United Nations Enable. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Feb. 2019].

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