Charities must help steer AI in a positive direction – report

Wide-ranging report from Charities Aid Foundation analyses likely impacts AI will have for civil society and the work of charities, outlines emerging challenges and opportunities to adopt ‘AI for good’.

James Hayes | 14th Jun 18
Friendly robot that symbolises artifical intelligence (AI). A report from the Charities Aid Foundation says that the rise of AI will create profound opportunities and challenges for the third-sector

It is crucial that charities play a key role in addressing the societal challenges posed by artificial intelligence (AI)*, a new report has said, because they represent the marginalised individuals and communities who will be ‘hit earliest and hardest’ by negative consequences of the technology.

Machine-Made Goods: Charities, Philanthropy and Artificial Intelligence from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) claims that civil society organisations need to understand the positive potential to harness AI to address social and environmental problems, and to understand the impact of AI on organisations, industries and the workplace.

Charities must also understand the negative impacts on the communities they serve and on wider society, the report warns.

Machine-Made Goods suggests there are several ways in which charities could use AI to further their missions. One opportunity is to make information more accessible through digital tools like chatbots**. An example of this is Arthritis Research UK’s virtual personal assistant, which was built with help from IBM’s Watson supercomputer.

However, the paper believes that charities are often cautious about being early adopters, because ‘new technologies are seen as high-risk’.

AI could also change how people donate to charity, said Rhodri Davies, Leader at CAF’s Giving Thought think tank: “If AI could be applied to automate philanthropy advice in the same way that it has been used to automate financial advice, [it] could have a massive impact on the ways in which people give. For example, algorithms could be used to tailor suggestions to people on social media based on what causes they and their peer group are interested in.”

Davies added: “It’s vital that [charities] keep abreast of the issues and how they potentially relate to their work. It is also crucial that there are opportunities to work with the tech sector to explore the possibilities for using AI for social good. Finally, it is critically important that civil society has a seat at the table in the debate over AI ethics, as many will have valuable insights to offer, and the cost of missing-out could be huge.”

* CDN JargonBust: Artificial Intelligence is intelligence demonstrated by machines and computer systems, in contrast to the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals. In computer science AI research is defined as the study of ‘intelligent agents’: that means any device that perceives its environment, and that takes actions that maximise its chance of achieving its goals.
** A chatbot is a computer program or an artificial intelligence that conducts a conversation via speech or textual media.

(Source: Wikipedia)