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The rise of artificial intelligence: what does it mean for development?

Leebong Lee's picture

Video: Artificial intelligence for the SDGs (International Telecommunication Union)

Along with my colleagues on the ICT sector team of the World Bank, I firmly believe that ICTs can play a critical role in supporting development. But I am also aware that professionals on other sector teams may not necessarily share the same enthusiasm.

Typically, there are two arguments against ICTs for development. First, to properly reap the benefits of ICTs, countries need to be equipped with basic communication and other digital service delivery infrastructure, which remains a challenge for many of our low-income clients. Second, we need to be mindful of the growing divide between digital-ready groups vs. the rest of the population, and how it may exacerbate broader socio-economic inequality.

These concerns certainly apply to artificial intelligence (AI), which has recently re-emerged as an exciting frontier of technological innovation. In a nutshell, artificial intelligence is intelligence exhibited by machines. Unlike the several “AI winters” of the past decades, AI technologies really seem to be taking off this time. This may be promising news, but it challenges us to more clearly validate the vision of ICT for development, while incorporating the potential impact of AI.

It is probably too early to figure out whether AI will be blessing or a curse for international development… or perhaps this type of binary framing may not be the best approach. Rather than providing a definite answer, I’d like to share some thoughts on what AI means for ICT and development.