10 ways AI is helping mankind – from detecting cancer to predicting poverty

From detecting cancer and visual impairments to spotting fake news and predicting poverty – AI is changing the world for the better.

  • AI model detects breast cancer better than human oncologists can
  • AI-powered system helps radiologists analyse medical images
  • We can now detect visual impairments faster, easier, and more efficiently
  • Can an AI-powered beehive save bees from extinction?
  • Helping researchers protect wildlife
  • AI offers a glimpse into the future effects of climate change 
  • Using AI, we can now monitor world hunger in real time 
  • Satellite imagery analysis accurately predicts poverty
  • AI system secures and protects our critical infrastructure
  • Detecting fake news made a little easier 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an integral part of modern life. Initially conceptualised in the 1950s, this technology is now widely used across many industries. From hospitals to manufacturing facilities, every industry relies on AI to a certain degree. While some are of the opinion that AI will bring on the demise of humanity, so far the opposite seems to be true – in fact, AI is used to solve numerous challenges and actually improves the way we live. As the technology matures and gets ever more sophisticated, it might one day enable us to live a disease-free life and eradicate hunger and poverty. Here’s ten ways in which AI is helping mankind.

AI model detects breast cancer better than human oncologists can

Probably one of the most transformative applications of AI in healthcare is cancer screening. Every sixth death in the world is attributed to cancer and millions of people lose their battle against this disease every year. Cancer is notorious for its rapid growth, so establishing an early diagnosis is extremely important. This is where AI has proven to be extremely valuable. A study published in science journal Nature reveals that AI can actually detect breast cancer better than human doctors can. The researchers used Google’s AI model to scan data from 76,000 women in the UK and 15,000 in the US, delivering better accuracy with less false positives and negatives than if the screening would be done by human oncologists. The AI also needed less information to detect the cancer. While doctors also need to look at historic patient data for comparison purposes, Google’s AI system was able to spot the cancer just by scanning current X-ray images.

AI-powered system helps radiologists analyse medical images

Another great advantage of medical AI lies in its ability to take over repetitive and tedious work. In radiology, for instance, AI can be used to assess medical images and assist radiologists by gathering relevant data. This is exactly what AI-Rad Companion, developed by Siemens Healthineers, was designed to do. This intelligent software assistant analyses medical images of patient organs, detects any disease-relevant changes, and creates a report. The software, however, isn’t meant to replace human expertise. Interpreting the data and reaching a diagnosis is still done by a human radiologist. The system is used to help medical professionals better visualise the data and deliver improved patient care.

We can now detect visual impairments faster, easier, and more efficiently

AI can also be used to help visually-impaired children. It’s estimated that 19 million children worldwide suffer from some type of visual impairment, which in 70 per cent of cases unfortunately isn’t detected early enough. Huawei has now developed the Track AI system, a user-friendly, affordable device that enables parents and doctors to monitor children’s eye movements. The system transmits the data to a smartphone, where it’s analysed by Huawei’s gaze analysis software to determine whether there is some form of vision impairment. The company’s tech expert Peter Gauden says the main goal of Track AI is “to make it possible for parents and doctors in all corners of the world to detect visual impairments in a faster, easier, more efficient way through AI technology.” Parents are, however, still advised to always consult an eye doctor for an accurate diagnosis and further treatment.

Can an AI-powered beehive save bees from extinction?

Bees are critical to our survival because of their role in crop pollination. Research suggests that bee-pollinated crops account for 35 per cent of our global food production. Unfortunately, rising pesticide use on farms as well parasites and loss of habitat are killing bee populations and could even result in their extinction. Bee declines are particularly evident in North America and Europe. In Germany, for example, a staggering 50 per cent of native bees are endangered. To protect the bees and ensure healthy bee populations, researchers and beekeepers need to know more about their behaviour in colonies and how they respond to different environments.

The German company we4bee has created an AI-powered beehive with smart sensors that collect data about pollution, noise, temperature, air pressure, and humidity. All of this data can be accessed and reviewed through the accompanying smartphone app. The we4bee beehives have already been deployed across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Their developers are now also considering upgrading the tech to make it capable of predicting earthquakes as well. “It’s been proven widely that insects and other animals start to behave differently before natural disasters hit, and we need to learn how to read those signs reliably,” notes biomedical scientist and we4bee’s CEO, Claudia Leikam.

Helping researchers protect wildlife

Not only can AI help us save the bees but it could also completely revolutionise wildlife conservation. As animal species continue to decline around the world, there’s a growing need for urgent action to protect our wildlife. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently partnered with Intel and is using its AI to monitor Siberian tigers in the northeastern region of China. As part of the project, WWF researchers installed Intel’s Movidius surveillance device in tiger habitats to monitor their behaviour and collect data. The data is then sent to a platform that analyses collected images and enables researchers to better monitor their numbers and migrations. This initiative is part of Intel’s Tech for Good project, which also helps to protect whales and polar bears. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we can expect to see more collaborations between law enforcement and wildlife conservationists using advanced technology in order to make anti-poaching efforts more efficient and save our endangered animals.

AI offers a glimpse into the future effects of climate change

Climate change continues to exacerbate the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events across the globe, but machine learning technology could help us better predict such events. With more efficient climate predictions at our disposal, we would be able to better prepare ourselves for possible consequences. A team of researchers from the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), AI tech company ConscientAI Labs, and Microsoft joined forces to develop an AI tool to help people better understand the effects of climate change. The team also hopes they will soon be able to create a user-friendly app that will help people see what kind of impact climate change will have on their neighbourhoods and homes in years to come.

Using AI, we can now monitor world hunger in real time 

Another tremendous challenge facing our society is hunger, which affects 8.9 per cent of the world’s population. In a bid to find solutions for this ongoing tragedy, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) recently partnered with the Alibaba Group to create an AI-powered monitoring system named Hunger Map LIVE. The system uses machine learning and data analytics to collect real-time data related to food security, weather, and conflict, and creates “a holistic picture of the food security situation” in the world. While food security is quite dynamic as it constantly changes, the traditional monitoring and analysis approach to food security is still very static. Hunger Map LIVE is different as it keeps track of global food security in real-time, allowing humanitarians to identify trends early and make better-informed decisions.

Satellite imagery analysis accurately predicts poverty

The same way AI helps organisations and philanthropists monitor world hunger, the tech can also be used to predict regions of poverty. Marshall Burke, assistant professor at Stanford University, used an AI system to analyse geospatial data of various African countries, including Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, and Rwanda. Burke used both day-time and night-time satellite images of the areas and combined them with economic data. According to CIO.com, the system was able to predict poverty regions with up to 99 per cent accuracy. Having access to this kind of information could enable organisations to better distribute goods across poverty-affected regions and get much needed help to many more people.

AI system secures and protects our critical infrastructure 

Rapid urbanisation is putting cities’ critical infrastructure like water supply and power systems under incredible pressure. Moreover, many cities still rely on ageing infrastructure, which needs to be constantly monitored to prevent major issues from happening. To help cities better cope with this problem, Boston-based company VODA.ai has developed AI software that can assess the condition of water systems. Designed for water operations, engineering, and management teams, the software collects data from the utility and publicly available sources and then uses multiple algorithms to assign a ‘likelihood of failure’ score to each pipe segment within the water system. The company’s website states that the system can reduce large breaks by 50 per cent, and minimise premature replacements by 25 per cent.

Detecting fake news made a little easier

With so much information available on the internet and presented in the media, it’s often hard to know who and what to believe. A survey conducted in 2018 revealed that 57 per cent of respondents encountered fake news during US elections, while 19 per cent claimed their vote in the elections had been influenced by fake news. To address this issue, researchers from Microsoft and Arizona State University have developed an AI framework that can detect fake news based on engagement and social media signals. After it was trained and tested on real-world data, the system proved to be better at detecting fake news than other, more traditional solutions. Equipped with a natural language processing algorithm, the system was able to detect fake news between 80 per cent and 82 per cent of the time, the study reveals.

We’ve seen many benefits of AI in the past few years and will likely continue to do so in the future. Whether it’s used to detect cancer or fake news, protect wildlife or battle hunger and poverty, artificial intelligence can be a force for good. But to maximise AI benefits, we need to continue to make sure that AI solutions are consistent with ethical principles and our moral values.

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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