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How to make sure your ‘AI for good’ project actually does good

Artificial intelligence has been front and center in recent months. The global pandemic has pushed governments and private companies worldwide to propose AI solutions for everything from analyzing cough sounds to deploying disinfecting robots in hospitals. These efforts are part of a wider trend that has been picking up momentum: the deployment of projects by companies, governments, universities, and research institutes aiming to use AI for societal good. The goal of most of these programs is to deploy cutting-edge AI technologies to solve critical issues such as poverty, hunger, crime, and climate change, under the “AI for good” umbrella.

But what makes an AI project good? Is it the “goodness” of the domain of application, be it health, education, or environment? Is it the problem being solved (e.g. predicting natural disasters or detecting cancer earlier)? Is it the potential positive impact on society, and if so, how is that quantified? Or is it simply the good intentions of the person behind the project? The lack of a clear definition of AI for good opens the door to misunderstandings and misinterpretations, along with great chaos.

AI has the potential to help us address some of humanity’s biggest challenges like poverty and climate change. However, as any technological tool, it is agnostic to the context of application, the intended end-user, and the specificity of the data. And for that reason, it can ultimately end up having both beneficial and detrimental consequences.

In this post, I’ll outline what can go right and what can go wrong in AI for good projects and will suggest some best practices for designing and deploying AI for good projects.

Success stories

AI has been used to generate lasting positive impact in a variety of applications in recent years. For example, Statistics for Social Good out