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Promoting digital equity and inclusivity through AI

As technology continues to progress at an accelerated pace, the digital divide further widens. In fact, the digital divide is becoming the new face of gender inequality. Access to digital technology and ensuring digital literacy, especially among women, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups has become more crucial than ever.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a very promising technology, but it also has the potential to deepen the digital divide. It is very important that we already reverse this now. We must ensure the proper development and use of AI, and that it will help advance our efforts on inclusive development and gender equality.

A vital area where we can leverage AI is in education, which is the great equalizer. If we provide the marginalized sectors of society with access to quality learning, they have great chances at succeeding in life. We already have a myriad of living proofs of this.

We have already witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic how technology can help address access to education. AI can further improve this because it has the potential to provide education and improve learning experience. It can reach areas where traditional access to quality education is limited. 

According to Stockholm-based IRIS Sustainable Development, one of AI’s core strengths is its ability to provide personalized learning, because AI algorithms analyze individual learning patterns and preferences to tailor educational content and methodologies. 

Then again, before we can provide access to AI, we need to give equitable access to digital tools such as mobile devices and stable internet connection. It is important that we fast track these efforts now so we can leverage AI in helping solve inequality.

AI can also greatly help in times of disasters and other crises when the most vulnerable remain to be women, children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and the already marginalized communities.

For instance, disaster maps have been helping relief organizations to better target emergency response and governments to allocate resources where it is needed the most. 

In 2014, IBM Research-Africa helped fight the Ebola in Sierra Leone by implementing a crowdsourcing platform for locals to communicate their experiences with government officials. The system allowed citizens to report Ebola-related issues either through SMS or voice calls that are location specific. Meanwhile, the government was able to keep track of the disease.

This program helped pinpoint regions with growing numbers of suspected Ebola cases and ensured the delivery of urgent supplies such as soap and electricity. It also promoted inclusivity as citizens, using mobile technology, were given a channel to communicate directly to the government.

AI is now being used to create applications and solutions that can handle increasingly complex problems, many of which can help us not only bridge the digital divide but also create an inclusive society.

As International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin said, “The SDGs are regrettably failing — and AI can help rescue them before it’s too late.”

We must embrace AI now and harness it responsibly and ethically, or else, we will continue to be left behind.

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