We are living through the fourth industrial revolution. Technological advancements are allowing for greater innovations that benefit global development.  For example, artificial intelligence (AI) could help address some of the Caribbean’s most pressing development challenges by improving the access and quality of health services, promoting greater agricultural productivity, and supporting leaner government structures and processes.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You hear Artificial Intelligence and begin to imagine a matrix like world run by robots with terminators on every single corner.  Trust me, I was scared initially too, but we are a very very very long way from here. Now read on…

As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, AI is the theory and development of computer systems that can perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence: such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation and interpretation. Algorithms are the basis of AI and are used to discover patterns and make predictions through analysis of “large” or “big” datasets. These datasets are so massive and complex, that traditional data-processing application software is inadequate to deal with them. AI could replace the need to programme every single action, by creating processes in machines which mimic humans’ thinking and reasoning. AI’s “thinking” gives it great potential to help tackle global challenges.

Despite significant progress, Caribbean healthcare systems are still treatment-based, and short-staffed. These characteristics impede response to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), which are responsible for the deaths of seven out of ten people in the Caribbean (Caribbean Knoweldge Series 2013). AI could change this by improving disease diagnoses and addressing labour shortages in healthcare. The technology can be used to analyse huge datasets to better predict, identify, and monitor NCDs while cutting treatment costs (Butcher 2016). In some cases, the use of AI, in conjunction with a doctor, makes diagnoses of some NCDs about .5% accurate (Wanjek 2016). AI could also fill gaps in the Caribbean’s human resource health shortages by

CARICOM countries currently import more than US $4 billion in food annually; this figure is expected to increase to US$8 Billion by 2020, as climate change effects become stronger. Weather patterns will change, and farmers will need to know how to react to preserve crop production. AI could help farmers create better conditions for crop growth to ensure greater food security and reduce our food import bill. Agriculture programs such as FAO’s AquaCrop Model can be used in the Caribbean to predict the ideal types and amounts of fertiliser, soil, water, and other variables for the best crop growth. The use of AI-based smartphone applications also allows for better monitoring of crops and growth conditions. They can inform farmers of plant diseases and soil nutrient deficiencies, with up to 98% effectiveness, through pictures alone (Senaar 2017). For Caribbean farmers, it increases resilience to climate change and thus protects harvests, resulting in greater yields for farmers and more food on our plates.

The Caribbean on average ranked 123rd out of 190 for ease of doing business in 2018 (World Bank 2018).  Inefficient government processes, unproductive labour, and corruption make our business climate weak and prevents our region from maximising the benefits of private sector development. AI could help increase productivity in our societies, especially in the public sector, to better our business environment and attract investment.  Using tools like handwriting recognition and language interpretation, the technology will be able to process enormous amounts of documents rapidly. This will make government processes such as paying taxes, enforcing contracts, or registering properties more efficient. It translates to quicker and easier business establishment and operations. Also, AI allows complex choices to be based on data instead of intuition. Having a strong basis for decision making could significantly reduce government and societal corruption to further attract investment.

AI in the Caribbean has the potential to save lives, improve food security, and make our business environments more competitive, all while reducing costs – a very rare combination of desirable objectives. Results, however, require time. Technology still has to develop, and our governments, which have not been as fast as other countries in the world in adopting new technologies, must be willing to invest in change. Jamaica, the easiest country to conduct business in the Caribbean, took a step in the right direction in 2017 by stating they want to take advantage of the benefits of AI to enhance economic growth in the country. The question is, how long will it take for other countries in our region to follow, so that we can all reap greater benefits from the fourth industrial revolution?

*This is my first blog, but expect more…..