Can AI become a tool to promote equality and fairness?

By Angela, October 24, 2017

“Technological innovation should give us hope, not despair.”

Those words were a key part of the G7’s first-ever Innovation7, which was held last month in Turin, Italy. The Innovation7, or I-7, is a gathering of industry representatives from the G7 countries to help bridge industry and government. The theme of this summit was on making the digital economy inclusive, open and secure and making technological advancement a source of well-being for all of mankind.

It was an absolute honour to be selected by the Canadian government as one of five delegates to represent my home country. And so, I set off for Turin to participate and advise on one of this year’s core themes: AI.

We in the tech world and private sector are quick to embrace new technologies. Yet it’s a whole different pace of adoption in government. Governments first seek input from experts to inform their policy making. And, part of the I-7’s mission is to educate policy makers on the possibilities and limitations of technology, while instilling confidence in their citizens and meeting their expectations of both the government and technology.

This summit had three parallel sessions on AI, Big Data, and Future of Work, to address three big questions, respectively:

  • AI: how can AI help governments make better decisions and deliver policies and services more effectively?
  • Big Data: from regulation to active management. How can a more proactive approach to Big Data lead to smarter countries?
  • The future of work (and the changing nature of society): How can innovation help deal with upcoming social and demographic changes

For anyone who is curious to learn more about the I-7, you can find our work and output here.

During the AI sessions, I collaborated with delegates from other G7 nations on what AI can do for government. We started with the collective belief that AI can be a foundational engine for governments by 1) making governments and government services more accessible via modern, ubiquitous and personalized interfaces; and 2) making processes more efficient and accountable through automation.

The potential for AI in government is vast: think about how chatbots can lead to better services for citizens, or how AI can improve traffic management and emergency responses.  

From there, we came up with actionable items related to the government-citizen interface, fairness and equality, efficiency and accountability, and customization.

I dug deeper into “equality and fairness” as this is something I’m particularly passionate about. This isn’t about AI’s ability to be fair or discriminate. Instead, I focused on how government should invest in AI as a tool to promote equality and fairness regardless of socioeconomic class, specifically to:

  • Reduce the cost of access to healthcare by optimizing the allocation of medical resources and augmenting clinical knowledge
  • Provide citizens with 24/7 access to government and public services
  • Offer equal access to education and professional development opportunities
  • Improve the reach and efficacy of the social welfare system

I’m happy to go into greater detail on any of the above if anyone would like to discuss it further.

This experience was my first in policy, and it made me think more deeply about my contribution to the world, as well as technology’s role (and responsibility) to tackle social challenges and give every human more opportunity.

As history has shown, technology has the power to transform the world. AI has the potential to radically increase access to key services and basic human rights: healthcare, education/knowledge, infrastructure, safety, science and research, etc.

It is my hope that increased access can lead to more opportunity for all of humankind. When people don’t have to worry as much about finding access to basic needs like healthcare, they are able to put so much more focus on creation and their contributions to society. It’s similar in concept to the Basic Income theory, except I believe in providing access to basic services (rather than a minimum stipend) as a means to collective economic growth.

AI can provide the technological foundation to make this happen, but, as the I-7 Chair Summary concludes, it’s up to experts and leaders across industry and government to ensure that people are at the heart of any technological advancement.

  • Armen Gulesserian

    Congratulations on being selected to participate in the I-7! I can only imagine it must of been a great experience.

    @Angela, what types of technologies and applications do you think can combat corruption effectively in third world countries?

    In a country like Mexico, where corruption has been institutionalized, technology seems to be a force capable of changing us for good. For example, social media has increased transparency and accountability between citizens, private companies and government. Also, our equivalent of the IRS has made an effort to digitize all payments, allowing for more transparent finances (and more collected taxes).

    Did you witness any success stories of some third-world counties adopting a realistic technological solution that has made a visible impact on their corruption levels?

  • Doug MacKay

    Congrats Angie on being selected! It is a great opportunity to help shape the landscape of AI.

    I enjoyed this post, and most others on your blog are great reading, as it centers on AI being an assist to inclusive and clear information for people. While I’m not focused on healthcare specifically, I AM focused on leveraging AI to help people make better decisions.

    While technology should give us hope, lately it’s been more despair. We have seen in recent years a human propensity to abuse technology to affect human outcomes. The problems Facebook experienced with fake news affecting the US election and how Instagram and Twitter have been leveraged as inflection points are fairly depressing examples. This seems to me as a cultural second-stage use of social technology where we leverage tools to harm others. A first-stage tool would be used to explore, like Google. Perhaps this analogy works in an anthropological sense: humans used fire (an old tech) and expanded around the world only to invent gunpowder to refine how we resolve disputes. Simplistic and ripe with problems, but AI might help.

    Technology has a responsibility to provide a clearer world view and solve problems for us. The digital landscape is about removing barriers from people and providing clarity, simplicity and insight in a world that is increasingly complex and distracted.

    AI has a tremendous opportunity to help everyone make better, more informed decisions. I will be very interested to see how Government approaches policy shaping regarding AI as there are levels of acceptance to new solutions: restriction and regulation being the easiest tools in the Government toolbox. Perhaps AI may become a third-stage tool where the tool helps protect people from themselves which is a typical Government responsibility. However, I have little confidence in government either moving fast enough or making informed decisions especially where technology is concerned.

    Government may also be one of the biggest benefactors of AI both where decision-making and operations are concerned.

  • Melissa Fox Lehman

    Congratulations Ang what an accomplishment and impressive contribution!

  • atkingyens

    Thanks, Armen! Good question, re: combating corruption. Given that the focus was on G-7 nations, we didn’t talk about third-world countries unfortunately. But I can imagine a future where we have an immutable public system of record for transparency via the blockchain for example.

  • atkingyens

    Thanks, Melissa ?

  • atkingyens

    Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts, Doug. I like your anthropological analogy: agree with you that it’s a fallacy of most people to think that technology is evil when it’s our propensity to behave badly with it. I would’ve *loved* to have the discussion around regulation and AI but I think governments are starting with baby steps here and that topic would simply make them paranoid 😉

    Would someday love to hear what you’re focused on to help people make more informed decisions.

  • Joseph Paradi

    Well done Angie – I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with you and see you mature into an outstanding individual. All the best for the future – and e me know when you come back home. – J. C. Paradi

  • atkingyens

    Thanks Prof Paradi! Home just before Christmas so will email you as soon as I make plans 🙂

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