How to Democratize AI?
*By Bertrand Badré and Charles Gorintin
The rapid advance of artificial intelligence evokes both wonder and dread. Many regard AI as an object of marvel and awe (a Stupor Mundi, to borrow a Latin phrase), while others believe it can be a benevolent savior (a Salvator Mundi). Regardless of whether AI is seen as miraculous or merely helpful, the question remains: How can we ensure that its benefits are available to everyone?
To answer this question, we need a nuanced understanding of AI. That means rejecting several simplistic narratives: functionalism, which says humans should adapt and augment themselves to keep up with technological progress; sensationalism, which depicts AI as an existential threat; cynicism, which seeks to exploit AI for profit; and fatalism, which implies a resigned acceptance of AI’s inevitable rise.
What these scenarios overlook is that the future is still ours to shape. Adopting the verum-factum principle – knowing through making – is crucial to developing a more profound understanding of AI’s capabilities and implications.
To prevent a minority from co-opting AI’s transformative potential, it must be democratized. Equitable access is the key to ensuring that the benefits of technological progress are broadly shared, and that AI serves as a unifying force, rather than exacerbating the divisions within our fragile societies.
The potential benefits are enormous. In the 1990s, Joseph Stiglitz observed that “a child anywhere in the world who has access to the internet has access to more knowledge than a child in the best schools of the industrial countries did a quarter-century ago.” By democratizing access to AI, we can empower today’s children to engage with humanity’s brightest minds in a way that caters to their individual needs.
But achieving this depends on how we shape the narrative surrounding AI’s adoption and future impact. Instead of making lofty promises like “AI will solve world hunger,” we should focus on its ability to bring about incremental yet meaningful improvements in people’s daily lives.
In this regard, the technology’s rapidly expanding capabilities and declining costs create new opportunities for smaller-scale models and enable individual users to personalize AI solutions, mirroring the internet’s freewheeling, creative early days. Just two years ago, for example, the leading open-source AI model was Meta’s OPT-175B. Today, a leading open-source model, Mistral 7B, is 40 times smaller, at least 40 times cheaper to operate, and outperforms its predecessor. Remarkably, it was developed by a company of just 18 people.
And this is just the beginning. AI is currently experiencing its own version of Moore’s law, setting the stage for rapid uptake, akin to the diffusion of telephones and televisions. This accelerated process calls for a shift in focus toward developing practical applications and mitigating risks, rather than fixating on reducing costs.
The rise of AI is a double-edged sword. The technology could be a powerful equalizer or a source of division, depending on how it is deployed and who controls it. Like previous technological revolutions, it promises to create new employment opportunities while simultaneously threatening to displace existing jobs. A recent report by the International Monetary Fund underscores this point, warning that AI could lead to a growing divide between tech-savvy individuals, well-positioned to reap the economic benefits of innovation, and those who risk falling behind.
But our understanding of these technologies must reflect their complexities and the power of human ingenuity. By developing and promoting AI systems that significantly improve essential services, especially in underserved regions, we could ensure that their benefits are broadly shared. To achieve this, AI technologies must be deployed with the explicit objective of reducing existing inequalities.
At the same time, it is worth noting that AI will most likely increase the overall consumer surplus by lowering the costs associated with certain services. To ensure that these benefits reach the majority of people, a two-fold strategy is necessary: enabling individuals to harness this value locally while redistributing the overall gains to those unable to access them.
Hence, enhancing the accessibility of AI is both feasible and critical. To leverage these technologies to tackle pressing social problems, it is crucial to identify specific areas where AI can make a substantial difference, such as health care, education, environmental sustainability, and governance. But setting the right priorities and implementing technological solutions requires a concerted effort. The concept of AI for good should be integrated into the strategies of development institutions and multilateral organizations.
But first, the global conversation about AI must shift from “wow” to “what” and “how.” It is time to move away from mere fascination with the emerging technology to identifying the challenges it can address and devising strategies for its integration into the educational and social systems of developed and developing countries alike. Preparing society for an AI-augmented future requires more than just technological innovation; it calls for establishing ethical frameworks, updating policymaking, and promoting AI literacy across communities.
As we navigate the Stupor Mundi phase of AI, captivated by its seemingly magical capabilities, we must never lose sight of the fact that the impact of technology depends on how we use it. The choices we make today will determine whether AI benefits and enriches a select few or evolves into a powerful force for positive social change. To realize the promise of Salvator Mundi, we must harness these emerging technologies to forge a better, more inclusive future for all.
*Bertrand Badré, a former managing director of the World Bank, is CEO and Founder of Blue Like an Orange Sustainable Capital and the author of Can Finance Save the World? (Berrett-Koehler, 2018). Charles Gorintin, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Alan, is a non-executive co-founder of Mistral AI.
Will 2024 Be the Year of Responsible AI?
By Yolanda Botti-Lodovico and Vilas Dhar*
The start of 2024 has been marked by a wave of predictions regarding the trajectory of artificial intelligence, ranging from optimistic to cautious. Nevertheless, a clear consensus has emerged: AI is already reshaping human experience. To keep up, humanity must evolve.
For anyone who has lived through the rise of the internet and social media, the AI revolution may evoke a sense of déjà vu – and raise two fundamental questions: Is it possible to maintain the current momentum without repeating the mistakes of the past? And can we create a world in which everyone, including the 2.6 billion people who remain offline, is able to thrive?
Harnessing AI to bring about an equitable and human-centered future requires new, inclusive forms of innovation. But three promising trends offer hope for the year ahead.
First, AI regulation remains a top global priority. From the European Union’s AI Act to US President Joe Biden’s October 2023 executive order, proponents of responsible AI have responded to voluntary commitments from Big Tech firms with policy suggestions rooted in equity, justice, and democratic principles. The international community, led by the newly established United Nations High-Level Advisory Body on AI (one of us, Dhar, is a member) is poised to advance many of these initiatives over the coming year, starting with its interim report on Governing AI for Humanity.
Moreover, this could be the year to dismantle elite echo chambers and cultivate a global cadre of ethical AI professionals. By expanding the reach of initiatives like the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource Task Force – established by the United States’ 2020 AI Initiative Act – and localizing implementation strategies through tools such as the UNESCO Readiness Assessment methodology, globally inclusive governance frameworks could shape AI in 2024.
At the national level, the focus is expected to be on regulating AI-generated content and empowering policymakers andcitizens to confront AI-powered threats to civic participation. As a multitude of countries, representing more than 40% the world’s population, prepare to hold crucial elections this year, combating the imminent surge of mis- and disinformation will require proactive measures. This includes initiatives to raise public awareness, promote broad-based media literacy across various age groups, and address polarization by emphasizing the importance of empathy and mutual learning.
As governments debate AI’s role in the public sphere, regulatory shifts will likely trigger renewed discussions about using emerging technologies to achieve important policy goals. India’s use of AI to enhance the efficiency of its railways and Brazil’s AI-powered digital-payment system are prime examples.
In 2024, entities like the UN Development Programme are expected to explore the integration of AI technologies into digital public infrastructure (DPI). Standard-setting initiatives, such as the upcoming UN Global Digital Compact, could serve as multi-stakeholder frameworks for designing inclusive DPI. These efforts should focus on building trust, prioritizing community needs and ownership over profits, and adhering to “shared principles for an open, free, and secure digital future for all.”
Civil-society groups are already building on this momentum and harnessing the power of AI for good. For example, the non-profit Population Services International and the London-based start-up Babylon Health are rolling out an AI-powered symptom checker and health-provider locator, showcasing AI’s ability to help users manage their health. Similarly, organizations like Polaris and Girl Effect are working to overcome the barriers to digital transformation within the non-profit sector, tackling issues like data privacy and user safety. By developing centralized financing mechanisms, establishing international expert networks, and embracing allyship, philanthropic foundations and public institutions could help scale such initiatives.
As nonprofits shift from integrating AI into their work to building new AI products, our understanding of leadership and representation in tech must also evolve. By challenging outdated perceptions of key players in today’s AI ecosystem, we have an opportunity to celebrate the true, diverse face of innovation and highlight trailblazers from a variety of genders, races, cultures, and geographies, while acknowledging the deliberate marginalization of minority voices in the AI sector.
Organizations like the Hidden Genius Project, Indigenous in AI, and Technovation are already building the “who’s who” of the future, with a particular focus on women and people of color. By collectively supporting their work, we can ensure that they take a leading role in shaping, deploying, and overseeing AI technologies in 2024 and beyond.
Debates over what it means to be “human-centered” and which values should guide our societies will shape our engagement with AI. Multi-stakeholder frameworks like UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence could provide much-needed guidance. By focusing on shared values such as diversity, inclusiveness, and peace, policymakers and technologists could outline principles for designing, developing, and deploying inclusive AI tools. Likewise, integrating these values into our strategies requires engagement with communities and a steadfast commitment to equity and human rights.
Given that AI is well on its way to becoming as ubiquitous as the internet, we must learn from the successes and failures of the digital revolution. Staying on our current path risks perpetuating – or even exacerbating – the global wealth gap and further alienating vulnerable communities worldwide.
But by reaffirming our commitment to fairness, justice, and dignity, we could establish a new global framework that enables every individual to reap the rewards of technological innovation. We must use the coming year to cultivate multi-stakeholder partnerships and promote a future in which AI generates prosperity for all.
*Yolanda Botti-Lodovico is Policy and Advocacy Lead for the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation. Vilas Dhar is President of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.