Can AI contribute to social good in Latin America? That is the question that Constanza Gómez, Claudia Del Pozo, Cristina Martínez and Ana Victoria Martín, leaders of the innovation agency C Minds, decided to answer in an investigation together with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Its premise: that Latin America and the Caribbean need innovative solutions to improve the quality of their services and that technology can make a decisive contribution to this, making them “more efficient and sustainable”.
“People can be much more productive when supported by technology. And this is one of the basic principles for the implementation of artificial intelligence in our region: it must be designed to complement humans and to improve their capabilities, but never to completely replace them,” the report says.
The potential of artificial intelligence
“In its dual role as a general-purpose technology and a tool for innovation, AI has gained prominence in debates in multiple spheres with the promise of changing the way we live and our perception of the world,” the report says.
In Latin America, its development can help to improve the efficiency in the provision of social services, to have greater transparency in public decision-making and to stimulate the economy through increases in productivity.
This last issue has been pointed out on several occasions in Chile, as a critical issue for its economy, given its poor performance compared to other OECD countries, barely in the penultimate place. The issue becomes more relevant in the midst of the debate on reducing the working day. The Minister of Labor, Jeannette Jara, has said that unemployment, productivity and competitiveness do not depend exclusively on the length of the working day, but on other factors such as technology.
In this context, technologies such as artificial intelligence have the potential to exponentially support the economy. The IDB study states that AI could contribute up to 14% of wealth to the emerging economies of Latin America, which is a great opportunity considering that the region is still at an early stage of adoption.
“In Latin America and the Caribbean, materializing the promise of AI as a tool to promote more inclusive and just economic and social development is not a luxury, but a latent necessity,” says Constanza Gómez, founder and director of C Minds.
AI for social good
The particular concept of AI for social good has been coined to refer to the empowerment of people , through technologies. “It is used to address the most important challenges of our time, those that directly impact humans and the environment in the most diverse fields (…) Under the concept of AI for social good, different actors have a place, including all those organizations or initiatives that address these challenges by relying on this technology”.
For this reason, the report evaluates the state of progress of the region in various fields: public, academic, social and business. One of the interesting findings is that most of the countries that make up this study – called LAC12 – have established solid foundations from a governance perspective. This means that they are developing their AI systems aligned with state efforts aimed at increasing connectivity, infrastructure development, national digitization strategies, open data, and national AI agendas.
Chile has also made progress in this area, with a National Artificial Intelligence Policy, launched at the end of October 2021, with 70 priority actions.
As for the level of coverage of this type of skills in universities, the study says that "more than 96% of the main universities in LAC12 offer careers related to AI and 50% have a laboratory or specialized center." In his opinion, "these are promising figures in terms of the development of local talent, one of the main challenges for AI startups in the region."
One of the aspects with the biggest gaps is the development of patents, where Latin America is at the lowest levels compared to other regions, with less than 1% of them. Other factors such as poverty and inequality also have an impact on these low results, which is why AI has the potential to significantly support the resolution of these challenges, says the IDB: "The 12 countries in the sample face systemic challenges such as inequality gaps. In them, the average GINI coefficient is 46%, positioning the region as one of the most unequal in the world, along with sub-Saharan Africa. This opens up an opportunity to explore how AI could become a powerful tool in bridging this gap.”