Image for essay on What Charities should do to make better use of AI (artificial intelligence)

The atmosphere and climate surrounding AI adoption in Charities is mixed right now, to say the least. People are still unsure whether AI should be seen as a friend or foe. Various thought pieces from around the globe are currently scrutinising over whether AI will save us from monotonous work, or whether they will rise up and destroy the human race.

To begin with, it is worth defining what is meant by Artificial Intelligence (AI), and for it not to be confused with Marketing Automation, which is what is often brandied around as AI in many articles. AI is the theory and development of a computer mind that can simulate human thought, and by that definition, the workings of a conscious human brain – using tools such as visual perception, speech recognition, language translation and decision-making to recreate human-like thought.

AI has been adopted at differing rates by a variety of business sectors, and this does not come as a surprise, as the use of AI is a natural fit and use of innovation for some industries more than others. One where Artificial Intelligence has been adopted in a major way is by the healthcare sector, for example through AI-driven diagnostic tools. AI is also becoming prevalent in the Financial sector in order to save time and reduce costs, effectively replacing  brokers in some cases. The education and transportation sectors are also starting to flourish from use of AI, so, why shouldn’t the Third sector – charities and not-for-profits, follow suit?

Of course some of the more well-financed not for profits are dipping their toes in the water. But who are they, what are they doing, and is it working? The remainder of this article will focus on how some charities are already utilising AI, followed by the reasons as to why charities, in particular, smaller ones, should give AI a try. We’ll also touch on some general concerns and scepticism about the adoption of AI by charities.

Five ways in which charities are already adopting AI technologies:

  1. Chatbots or personal assistantArthritis Research UK have begun to use Microsoft’s ‘Watson AI’ to create a chatbot about the condition, the charity can, therefore spread their knowledge of the condition and lowers cost on human advisories.
  2. Conservation and Poaching prevention – AI technology can help create the best routes for officers to patrol, which in turn can lower poaching rates. Work by the Lindbergh Foundation has developed a programme called Air shepherd which uses aerial drones to identify poachers before they reach elephant herds and prevent poaching in areas such as Uganda and Malaysia.
  3. Live Translations – one important goal of most charities is that what they do can be accessed by everyone, in any language. AI can help live translation into any language rather than paying for face-to-face costly translation. The Children’s Society charity have recently started using Microsoft’s easy to use and trustworthy translation tool.
  4. Easy Research – The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) has purchased a startup called Meta which developed an AI technology that can sift through academic journals and prioritize the most relevant information, allowing scientists to find the most applicable research. How is this charitable you may ask? Well, firstly it has been purchased due to the potential it has for social good, and secondly, many charities do lots of research – and therefore – the possibilities of this application are endless.

Why charities, in particular, small ones, should adopt AI:

  1. Make use of free tools: people often overlook the free tools and technologies that run in the background and are highly important in the everyday running of many businesses and charities. Whatsapp is a great example, Whatsapp is a free technology that enables for fast, free and crucially, secure communication, anywhere, anytime. Raise the roof Kenya, a charity that provides free sanitary products to girls in Kenya,  has begun to utilise Whatsapp in order to communicate between teams, which has created more free time and funding for other areas of the charities work.
  2. AI technology can actually strengthen a charity: the reason for this is the new GDPR law. GDPR legislation has meant that the digital sector needs to consider consent when working with charities. Last year, the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities, created a ‘Stronger Charities for a Stronger Society’ report, detailing the importance of the digital sphere when determining the feasibility of a charity.
  3. AI can facilitate communication, it encourages it between Charities, there is a whole online community where charities can engage with each other and talk about many different topics, ranging from what their charities do, to recommending different technologies for each other to use, which will increase their reach and advancement.

So what’s holding charities back?

There a multitude reasons as to why many charities are reluctant to adopt artificial intelligence technologies – mainly, it’s that they are stuck in their old ways and habits, the fear of change and technologies is holding many charities back. This, coupled with a lack of funding and digital expertise in some cases, is why charities are hesitant. However, there seem to be two burning issues that are recurring when the topic of charities and artificial intelligence is brought up, so let’s explore them.

  • Algorithmic bias – an algorithm is a shortcut that we use to tell a device what it should be doing, all artificial intelligence is based on and made up of codes, algorithms, set-ways of doing things, as much as they can be programmed to act like a human, thinking like a human is difficult when a code is telling you to do one thing, when in a real life situation, you would do another. Algorithmic bias exists everywhere, they do not take social bias, historical or human statistics into consideration, and, therefore, this algorithmic bias is heightened and has even more of an impact when used day-to-day. An example of AI algorithmic bias in practice is a system called COMPAS which has been utilised in America to predict which prisoners are most likely to re-offend, it is said, however, that these systems incorrectly suggested that black defendants were more likely to re-offend than whites.
  • Lack of awareness – many charitable organisations are not involved in the forums or discussions about AI and how it can be used or how they can adopt it – yet the people that these charities are fighting for, are amongst those most likely to be affected by the negative impacts of AI. So how can charities be more involved in the development of AI in the future and for the better? Charitable organisations need support in the form of education and skills on how they can use AI for societal good, moreover, a multiplicity of viewpoints and opinions need to be included in the discussions, and many would argue, it is the government that is responsible for this engagement.

Everyday examples

Despite these hurdles, we truly believe AI and charities are two highly complimentary things, Let’s conclude by showcasing some cool examples of how AI is changing the way charities are run today, and in turn, increasing their ability to provide societal good:

  • Alexa is a great example of how AI can help charities and charitable giving – a recent report by AbilityNet.org suggested that the future of Alexa will allow for charitable donations, imagine, it states, “that the ability to give to a good cause, at the very moment you’re moved to do so, is as simple as saying to the air around you ‘Alexa, give £100 to the Red Cross hurricane relief fund”. This is not an available application yet, but watch out for it in the future.
  • Bark.us is a charity that is using AI to fight cyber-bullying by analysing conversations that teenagers have on social media, an analysis is undertaken to see whether a child is suffering from cyber-bullying, hate speech, depression etc. if a cause for concern is found, Bark sends an alert to parents, and claims that “Analysis of 500 million messages has so far helped save the lives of 25 kids who were considered imminently suicidal but whose parents didn’t know”.

Conclusion

On balance, the potential for AI to aid charity efficiency and their ability to increase common good, is huge. The concerns and uncertainties are mainly down to lack of knowledge and understanding of the technologies that underpin AI usage. These fallbacks can be overcome by government initiatives to educate charities and valuing the input that charities can provide on the topic themselves. All in all, it is our opinion that the push in using AI for charities will happen, and happen soon. Those who move first to learn will benefit the most, so marketers in the charity sector need to start looking into how AI can benefit their organisations.

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