IBM And Applying AI For Social Good

Artificial intelligence, particularly as we begin to make our pivot from targeted solutions to general-purpose offerings, is a massive force multiplier.   It can look at massive amounts of data, it isn’t naturally biased (though care has to be taken not to introduce bias), and when applied properly it can significantly increase revenues and profits while sharply reducing costs due to better decision making where it is applied.  

But our biggest problems like global warming, the lack of safe water food and medicine in emerging countries, poverty, homelessness, cancer, pandemics, natural disasters, and mentally challenged politicians could be massively reduced by applied AI and yet the related efforts often don’t have the funding to use the technology.  Well IBM is stepping up with a program they’ve called “Science for the Social Good” and it promises to provide this critical technology to the areas that most need it.  

Let’s talk about some of the specifics and how IBM is using its massive power to help make the world a better place to live.   

Science For Social Good

This program was launched back in 2016 and consists of IBM Research scientists and engineers, academic fellows, subject matter experts across a broad range of topical areas, NGOs, public sector agencies, and social enterprises.  The effort is focused on using AI to help solve the toughest problems plaguing the planet by accelerating the rate and pace of advancement using scientific method.  

Of the projects identified 28 are focused on detecting new diseases, particularly potential epidemics.  These epidemics don’t just include sicknesses though as the efforts also look at the Opioid Addition crisis, the proliferation of hate speech, and factors slowing critical scientific discovery.   

Specific efforts include using AI for smarter sustainable development.  This is a project done in conjunction with the United Nations using natural language processing to streamline and optimize projects in developing countries focused on sustainability.  

Another is using ML (Machine Learning) to better understand and mitigate the risks of contracting the Zika virus which has been connected to significant birth defects in children.  This effort, done in conjunction with The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, collected and mined biological and ecological data to create algorithms and models used to determine which primates are carriers of the virus so that it’s spread can be more effectively mitigated.  

One of the more interesting projects partnered IBM with the Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners group to develop predictive models and decision support resulting in personalized financial advice for low wage earners so they can maximize the use of their limited income and get far more for the limited income they currently generate.  Sometimes it isn’t about paying people more but helping them get more from the money they already make. A relatively low-cost way to effectively deal with endemic poverty.  

Another fascinating project is focused on the massive opioid addiction problem we have in the US.  This program, a joint project between IBM Research and IBM Watson, developed an impressively accurate model that could predict which patients were most likely to become addicted.  This provides medical professionals with a heads up that could either prevent the addiction by pointing to other pain management alternatives or assure that the resulting addiction was dealt with effectively and safely before it destroyed the patents life and family.  

Wrapping up:  

IBM is yet another example of a legacy company putting its money and investment where its heart is.  Their massive investments in using their leading AI technology to help make the world a better place isn’t just making a difference, it is setting an example for other firms.  We know that Millennials, in particular, tend to favor firms that do positive things for the world, but even if that wasn’t the case, these efforts make this planet a better place for all of us and the firms, like IBM, are owed our gratitude for the related efforts.   

We are surrounded by examples of companies, politicians, and executives doing bad things and I think we need to balance that horrible news with the fact that a number of companies are stepping in where governments have failed and making a difference.   

Thanks, IBM, for working to make this planet a better place for me to live in.