AI for Good: Coding for a better world

Sandra Loyd
Markus Matiaschek worked with the Child Growth Monitor for Welthungerhilfe developed an app for smartphones to determine malnutrition in children. The children only have to use it to scan the helpers, and artificial intelligence does the rest. (Figure: Zeitz / Welthungerhilfe)

A new alliance of programmers, financially strong tech companies, and NGOs are formed. Together they want to solve global problems such as poverty, hunger, and climate change. However, it is not that simple in everyday life.

In the best-case scenario, the procedure only takes two minutes. Once upon the scales, then measure your height with the wooden stick and finally put on a ribbon to read your arm circumference. If the child stays still during the examination, you will be done very quickly. But that almost never works. Children move, fidget, run around, especially the younger ones. Ten minutes and more are therefore the rule to collect the data. And then there are the boys and girls who can’t keep still. “You don’t have a chance with them,” says Markus Matiaschek. “But these are often the most urgent cases.”

47 million children suffer from emaciation, which is a sign of acute malnutrition is, 144 million children chronically get insufficient protein, vitamins, iron, iodine, or other nutrients. Welthungerhilfe recently published these figures and warned that the fight against hunger is proceeding too slowly. Climate change, droughts, and conflicts are hampering the supply of food – and Covid-19 is further exacerbating the drama. For months it has been almost impossible to measure children because you would have to get close to them.

Matiaschek knows them, Children. The programmer who works for Welthungerhilfe met her on his travels to India. He has traveled to villages and slums several times, now he is sitting in Würzburg in the Cube, a light-flooded hub for founders in which he has rented. The 37-year-old wears a dark checked shirt, three-day beard, his hair tucked behind his ear, and explains how he wants to solve the problem: digitally, namely with the Child Growth Monitor.

It is a smartphone app with which helpers children only have to scan from the front and from the back, the rest is done by artificial intelligence. It determines how tall and heavy the children are and the size of their upper arm – and whether these values ​​indicate healthy development. Or whether help is needed. The app will be ready in a few weeks, says Matiaschek. After almost three years of work.

In the end, one did not often get the impression that digitization had a positive effect on society. Hate speech, right-wing networks, rigged elections, disinformation campaigns – everywhere tech seems to produce only the worst in people. Or mainly to be used to optimize online marketing and to fuel consumption.

But more and more programmers, Scientists, politicians, and founders see artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, and IoT as a kind of game-changer for global problems. The World Economic Forum stated that the “technologies of the fourth industrial revolution” could have a “big impact” on ten of the 17 sustainability goals; 70 percent of the 169 sub-goals could be tackled directly. UN aid agencies such as Unicef ​​or UNHCR are experimenting with AI, researchers in Oxford are investigating the question of how “AI for Social Good” projects should be designed, in Germany the Federal Environment Ministry supports sustainable tech founders – and companies in Silicon Valley are also involved. You have started programs to promote non-profit and eco-social startups.

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