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The flipside of AI: social challenges of artificial intelligence

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When most people think of AI, they imagine a powerful tool that is set to positively transform the future of humanity and create a beautiful experience for everyone. Although this is true, there is, however, the ugly side of AI that could dominate the beautiful aspect of it, if left unaddressed. The problem is not with the technology itself but in how it is designed and used. “In this bleak depiction of our future, decades of fights for civil rights and equality have been unwritten in a few lines of code,” lamented Miriam Vogel, the Executive Director of EqualAI. This problem of AI is, however, beyond the algorithms. It’s something much bigger. It’s about the social challenges associated with the technology.

In January 2020, Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, a young black American, was wrongfully arrested on the grounds of felony and larceny. This happened after he was wrongfully accused by a facial recognition software which falsely matched his face against an image from a surveillance footage. Robert spent the night in detainment, lost his freedom, was humiliated, and lost an irreplaceable part of his life, all because he was misidentified by a facial recognition software that thought all black men looked alike. We think AI is so smart and intelligent, but the reality is that, in a lot of cases, AI misses basic context and is incapable of comprehending some very basic information whilst accurately comprehending complex ones. Robert is just one amid a pool of several others that have been treated unfairly as a result of bias in AI. 

In Detroit, facial recognition software fails to correctly identify people “96 % of the time”, according to the Detroit police chief. This helps us understand how much of a problem this is. The problem of AI in the social context is beyond the algorithms, and can be attributed to a host of factors including the dataset used in training the AI. An AI that is strictly trained to identify images of cats and dogs will be unable to identify other animals outside these two. In the same manner, a non-diverse skewed dataset of images, for example, with very few images of people from a particular race or gender, will perform poorly on images of people from that race or gender. The reality is that these algorithms subtly reflect the inequalities in our society.

An MIT study has shown that the commercial facial recognition software of some major technology companies exhibit significant gender and skin-type bias, with an error rate of as high as 34.7% for black women, compared to a negligible 0.8% error rate for light-skinned men. The brutality resulting from the use of computer vision software is becoming increasingly alarming, and has pushed major technology companies like Amazon, IBM and Microsoft to halt the commercialization of their facial recognition software. Portland, also, has outrightly banned the use of facial recognition software in the region.

The social dilemma

The social dilemma of AI is beyond images. It’s an all-encompassing problem. A Netflix documentary titled Social Dilemma was released this year. The documentary, which featured powerful figures in Silicon Valley, was created to expose the exploitation of human emotions and psychology by social media applications. On the surface, it would appear that these applications do not pose any threat or concern, and this, in itself, is a cause for serious concern. Social media is built on the bricks of the attention economy, and advertisers are simply paying these giant tech companies to mine the attention of users. If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product. This manipulative art and exploitation of human fears and weaknesses is powered by the use of highly intelligent AI systems, which can understand more about the behavioural patterns of users than the users themselves. Now, more than ever before, the world needs to share the concern expressed in Yuval Noah Harari’s concluding words in his book, Homo Deus, “What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?”. 

If a machine learning algorithm is trained on a dataset containing the information of numerous people in order to determine their loan eligibility or eligibility for other financial services, and the dataset is significantly biased against a particular gender or class of people, you can only expect the system to likely be biased in its decision of who is eligible to access loans or any of the other financial services. Although machine learning models make their predictions based on what has been learnt from several features and not just a single feature, we cannot deny the fact that the underlying issues in the construction of these features may accelerate the occurrence of biased outcomes. Imagine the polarity these biased systems could create in our world. 

A few months ago, Carmen Arroyo asked the management company of her apartment in Connecticut if her son could move in with her after he survived a brutal accident. Her request was denied after an AI-powered tenant-screening background check was conducted. The denial resulted from the system’s identification of a minor shoplifting charge from her son’s past, which was very irrelevant considering his present circumstances, apart from the fact that this also violated the region’s housing laws. With AI being at the core of the major decision systems, a lot of laws could be violated and a lot of people could be unfairly excluded from a better life simply because a software says so. In cases where the AI system involves machine learning, which is mostly the case today, it will be nearly impossible for even the AI expert to understand how a pattern was recognized or why it was even identified. This further exacerbates the situation. In cases like this, victims of AI injustice, like Carmen Arroyo’s son, may never have the opportunity to contest these biased decisions because the reason for the decision will forever remain unknown.

AI is more powerful than we can imagine, and this is a major concern because when its applications deviate from what we intend, it can grow into a destructive beast. It can thwart our justice system. It can cripple the human experience. The bias that comes with AI is a serious concern, but it can be addressed. Just like Sandra Watcher, associate professor in Law and AI ethics at Oxford University, expressed, “It’s unrealistic to assume that we’ll ever have a neutral system. But with the right systems in place, we can mitigate some of the biases.”

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Kehinde is a driven human who is passionate about leveraging technology to transform the future of humanity and the way we all live. His interest lies in constantly getting valuable information and being part of a mission that seeks to create a transformative radical shift.

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Blockchain Technology

How blockchain can bridge the trust gap in governance

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Governments and authority figures have existed throughout history to serve many purposes amongst which trust is central. In matters of social and economic concern, some form of trust and/or distrust has enabled people in all cultures across all times to transact and interact, to exchange value and advance cultural agenda. This is so important that our very concept of money is built on trust or value induced by trust.

However, for most of history up till now, authorities have wielded central power and that has always been an avenue for corruption, a lack of transparency which leads to wastage of resources and spirals down to a lack of trust by a populace in the authority over them. Evidently, this is paradoxical, the governments are to be trusted by virtue of the authority given to them but it’s this centralization that ends up upending it down the line.

Evidently, many people in many countries do not trust governments to do things the way they say they’d do them. The question is, what can a hypothetical government do about massive distrust from citizenry?

Enter the blockchain. As with many things, technology often has something to offer. The blockchain which underlies cryptocurrencies like most famously, Bitcoin, has been imbued with a certain peculiar philosophy; one of democratization. Although this is more of a mantra within crypto circles, it’s not difficult to see why. First is the blockchain’s nature; distributed ledger built on cryptography with certain features which make it functionally immutable. It’s most famous and defining uses have been with crypto but it could be so much more. A record keeping system for example, one that would be immutable and most importantly, transparent, open to all to see.

So, in the administration of nation states, blockchain technology has the ability to fit into a lot of places. The main idea is to be able to carve out trust from distrust i.e. the apparent reality of being watched and having all records secure is an incentive for governments to act transparently. In some use cases, governments (as well as private businesses of course) could leverage smart contracts, a task built into a blockchain that’s executed when the conditions specified are met. These systems in governance would undoubtedly improve transparency, cut down on corruption as well as its accompanying wastes and overall be more efficient.

So, will we see a trend where governments would like to use blockchain technology? Overall, this is for now unlikely. World governments, it would seem, do not understand blockchains very well and hence are apprehensive about them even to the point of banning the cryptocurrencies built on them. At the end of the day, the use of blockchain at the governmental level of any nation depends on the nation’s own unique set of problems and issues. All in all, the next few years will be interesting no doubt in this regard.

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Africa Blockchain Institute

Africa Blockchain Institute Organized The First African Blockchain Summer Bootcamp For Teenagers In Ghana

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In the spirit of catching them young, the Africa Blockchain Institute organized the first-ever Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for teenagers (age range 13 to 19 years old). A successful Bootcamp, according to the participants’ testimonials and stakeholders, held at the OpenLabs, Ring Road, Accra Ghana, between Monday 2nd August, and Friday 6th August 2021. 

The teenagers applied from across Africa, and selected participants all converged at the OpenLabs, Ghana, for an intensive five days of learning, interacting, and implementing personal  Blockchain projects. The participants were divided into three significant tracks, thus; Blockchain Development, Blockchain for Creatives and Blockchain Entrepreneurship. 

Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI
Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by Africa Blockchain Institute

Across these three tracks, the teenagers learnt introductory units to Blockchain Development for societal challenges, Blockchain evangelism, Non-Fungible Tokens, and how Cryptocurrency works. Another highlight of the program was the excursion to the Accra Digital Centre, where the Boot Campers were introduced to the tech ecosystem and feel of the Ghana Tech Lab and Accra Innovation Hub spaces. A visit was also made to the Museum of Science and Technology, and the teenagers got to understand the history of technology in Ghana. 

Worthy of mention was the panel session aimed at motivating the students to pursue a career in technology. While making his comments during the panel session, the founder of BankLess Africa, Mr. Muntala Mohammed Shaibu, urged the teenagers to stop seeing themselves as too young to experiment with new technologies. In her remarks, Ms. Elohor Thomas, CEO & Co-Founder of CodeLn, urged the teenagers to continue to explore their interest in technology and blockchain early.

Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI
Panel Session, Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for Teens by ABI

The Bootcamp ended with personal project presentations from the Blockchain Development and the Blockchain for Creatives & Entrepreneurship tracks. Projects such as NFT blogposts, Blockchain product reviews and Blockchain for transport and logistics were presented. The best presentation won the OpenLabs scholarship for Robotics Course. Thanks to Dr Sujith Jayaprakash, the Director of OpenLabs, Ghana, for the offer of scholarship. In his closing remark, the Executive Director of the Africa Blockchain Institute, Mr. Kayode Babarinde, urged the teenagers to continue using the  skills and knowledge gained during Bootcamp to explore Blockchain-related solutions further. We also appreciate Mr. Ganzaro Omar, Chairman, AfroBlocks, for his supports, and fostering collaborations with the Ghanian Blockchain community.

The Africa Blockchain Institute will continue to hold future Blockchain Summer Bootcamp series in various African cities to drive Blockchain knowledge into innovators early enough. 

Oluwaseun David ADEPOJU

Head of Research,

Africa Blockchain Institute. 

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Artificial Intelligence

How AI Is Helping Fintechs Provide Intelligent And Better Financial Services

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AI fintech services

We live in an era of data. In today’s world, data is the new gold. The quality of services now significantly depends on how much insight can be extracted from data to help in the creation of the services. For fintech organizations, building services that harness the power of data and artificial intelligence has now become necessary to ensure that the services are tailored to meet the needs of customers. Artificial intelligence is now being used in various ways to help fintech companies provide intelligent and improved services. Some of the major areas of AI application in fintech are discussed in this article.

Risk Assessment

From insurance companies to banks and other fintech institutions, assessing credit worthiness and estimating the level of risk associated with every transaction has become very crucial. Now, many fintech companies employ the use of AI in determining the credit profiles of clients which helps to minimize financial losses when customers fail to repay loans or meet other financial commitments. 

Predicting and preventing fraudulent transactions is another challenge that fintechs are using AI to solve. Using machine learning algorithms, fintech organizations are able to build more accurate fraud detection mechanisms to curb the activities of scammers. The advantage of using machine learning for fraud detection in financial systems is that the machine learning model can learn from the financial data by itself. Thus, it is able to uncover hidden patterns and make a more robust prediction compared to traditional fraud detection algorithms. AI-based fraud detection algorithms can also be used to verify insurance claims and flag fraudulent ones. 

Churn Prediction

Customer churn is an important Key Performance Index (KPI) for any organisation. Preventing customer churn is aimpoaaaustomers and improve customer engagement. Many fintechs across the world now use AI to increase customer retention by understanding customer behaviour and making data-driven decisions to retain the audience of customers.

Intelligent Customer Service

Customer service is an aspect of fintech that has been significantly transformed by AI. The use of AI in this area has drastically reduced the need for human customer care representatives and the cost associated with employing these representatives. With AI, more customers can be attended to more efficiently via chatbots, virtual assistants etc. 

Chatbots are, particularly, one of the most common uses of AI in fintech customer service. Chatbots are sophisticated conversational AI applications that can engage with customers, address complaints and basically fill in the gap of a human employee. Chatbots have now become faster and easier means for customers to fix issues they have while using fintech services.

The Future of Fintech With AI

The use of AI in financial technology extends beyond risk assessment, churn prediction and intelligent customer service. Areas like payment processing and sentiment analysis are also being transformed by AI. Organizations like MasterCard and Visa have been able to improve the quality of their services by leveraging AI to achieve this. Personalized banking and financial services will define the future of financial technology. Better experiences will be developed for each customer in a unique and personalized manner. This may be impossible without AI. The future of fintech is geared towards smarter and more intelligent services, with AI steering the wheel to this future.

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