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Global Goalscast: The global impact of artificial intelligence

As artificial intelligence becomes a bigger part of our lives, people across the globe are working to use the technology in ways that will have the most positive impact. In this edition of the Global Goalscast, hosts Edie Lush and Claudia Romo Edelman take a look at what AI means for sustainable development.

To understand how AI is being used across the globe, it's important to get outside Silicon Valley. So Lush met with two experts in Africa to get their perspective. Nathalie Munyampenda is managing director of the Next Einstein Forum, an international science group that believes the next Einstein will be from Africa. They are doing everything they can through education and training to make that happen. She introduced Lush to Abdigani Diriye, who works at the IBM research lab in Nairobi. He captured the difference between how AI is often talked about in the global north and south.

"I think the conversation really needs to be around how we can effectively use artificial intelligence to improve the human condition and how we can prepare ourselves and the next generation," Diriye said.

One of the challenges they face is something called premature de-industrialization, which is when industrial jobs are wiped out before a country is ready for the transition. More than anything, they stressed the importance of integrating advanced thinking about AI with some of the biggest challenges facing Africa, from education and water use to energy and health care.

One of the UN's specialized agencies, the International Technological Union, commissioned a report from the consulting firm McKinsey to look at how AI will impact the global economy. One of the authors, Michael Chui, said they looked at over 160 different uses including disaster relief, public health, and improving infrastructure.

He said richer countries tend to be better prepared to deploy AI technologies, whether it's through infrastructure or by investing in education. Beyond that gap, Chui said we should expect disruptions as the technology impacts workers.

"People will have to continue to learn, because technology and these other trends will, will change what people do over time," he said.

But it's hard to separate AI from a broader discussion about access to the internet. Rosemary Leith, co-founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, said one of the biggest barriers to the benefits of digital technologies is the lack of basic web access.

"Lack of affordability is the key thing that we really need to tackle," she said. "Data is just too expensive."

Access isn't just about cost. It also needs to take into account the world's diversity.

"Only 5 percent of the global population are native English speakers, yet more than 50 percent of the web's content online is English. It's in English and the web needs to become more diverse," Leith said.

Is it possible to change the world? Can we still make the planet a better place for us all to live? U.N. special adviser Claudia Romo Edelman and Hub Culture executive editor Edie Lush — hosts of the Global Goalscast — believe the answer is a resounding "yes," and that everyone can play a part. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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