AI for poverty alleviation
Adobe Stock / – Artificial Intelligence is helping impoverished Indian villagers overcome language barriers.

The impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on various industries, including healthcare and finance, has been remarkable–and as AI technology continues to progress, its potential to improve the lives of underprivileged individuals worldwide is becoming increasingly evident as well.

In India, for example, AI is being used to help impoverished citizens overcome language barriers and gain access to government assistance programs. AI-powered chatbots are assisting low-income individuals in navigating complex bureaucratic processes to receive the help they need.

Bridging the Gap with Artificial Intelligence

Meanwhile, Bangalore is conducting trials of AI to enable some of the country’s poorest individuals to access government anti-poverty initiatives while avoiding bureaucratic hurdles and corruption.

Vijayalakshmi, a cook from Jayanagar who makes ends meet on a mere $100 per month, found herself unexpectedly involved in this AI initiative. Typically, her smartphone usage doesn’t extend beyond basic tasks and English isn’t in her linguistic arsenal.

Yet, one hot April afternoon, she found herself experimenting with artificial intelligence alongside her fellow domestic workers. In her native tongue of Kannada, she asked a bot about educational scholarships.

To her surprise, a lifelike voice answered promptly, detailing the governmental assistance available to her teenage son. This interaction serves as an illustration of the profound societal impact artificial intelligence can have.

Artificial Intelligence: An Equalizer for Social Inequality

While concerns about AI’s role in disinformation and job displacement remain, the trials in Bangalore and Mewat in northern India demonstrate its potential as a tool for promoting social equality. Artificial intelligence can help with professional communications, empower those without language skills, and assist people with disabilities, such as the visually impaired who use BeMyEyes as a personal assistant.

India, where approximately 16% of the population lives in poverty, stands to benefit greatly from AI’s ability to remove language and tech barriers. Unlike China, which has prohibited the use of ChatGPT, or the US and UK, which are considering AI regulation, India has fully embraced AI.

Indian ministers contend that the country can leverage AI to address language, education, and cultural inequalities without resorting to restrictive regulations. In India, several AI chatbots are being developed to help the underprivileged access legal justice, provide farming advice, and support migrant workers in urban environments.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who is originally from India, has also expressed optimism about AI’s potential to improve the lives of remote villagers in the country. Nadella sees AI as a tool that can quickly diffuse knowledge and technology across the globe, leading to a more equitable distribution of resources.

Despite the potential benefits of AI, its rapid proliferation has raised concerns about political manipulation, health misinformation, and hyper-targeted advertising.

Some experts, including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, have called for AI regulation, while others have warned of its potential existential risks. The importance of consent, data privacy, and security is amplified in India when working with individuals who lack technical skills and formal education.

Overcoming Bureaucracy and Corruption with AI

Back in Bangalore, many of the women testing ChatGPT had previously given up on receiving aid due to language difficulties and rampant corruption. Now, with the introduction of Jugalbandi, a bot providing multi-language translation services, they see a new path.

With the assistance of machine translation software containing millions of parallel sentences in various Indian languages and thousands of hours of spoken dialogue for recognition, Jugalbandi can now comprehend and respond to questions in rural dialects in the same language.

Artificial Intelligence, however, is not a magic wand. The social challenges in India are complex and enormous, and as Saurabh Karn, who led the Bangalore trials, admits, they are too big for AI to solve alone. But for women accustomed to bureaucratic hurdles and corruption, the advent of AI provides a glimmer of hope.

Yashoda, a domestic worker who participated in the trials, succinctly sums up the potential impact: “The robot can’t throw our application in the waste bin like the government official does when he’s dissatisfied with the bribe amount.”

But while AI is making strides in bridging the linguistic and literacy gap, it simultaneously underscores another division: the digital divide.

A group of waste pickers in a neighborhood at the far end of Bangalore, who spend their days collecting and selling recyclable waste, mostly don’t own smartphones, thus revealing how AI can inadvertently deepen the gap between the technologically privileged and the deprived.

Meanwhile, AI has also inadvertently awakened a survival instinct in Vijayalakshmi, the domestic worker from Jayanagar, who is all too aware of the double-edged sword that is artificial intelligence.

“Bribe-rejecting robots are OK but don’t build any that can do house chores,” she said. “I don’t want to lose my job to a robot.”

As we tread deeper into the age of AI, Vijayalakshmi’s words serve as a timely reminder that while artificial intelligence holds immense potential to better lives, the human element should always remain in the foreground.