10 Surprising Uses of Artificial Intelligence

March 23, 2017

There’s been a lot of buzz about artificial intelligence (AI) lately. It seems like every day, there’s another news story about the incredible uses of artificial intelligence and chatbots.

You’ve probably heard about banking, travel, and e-commerce bots. But did you know that AI is also helping solve some of the world’s toughest problems?

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Enterprising non-profits and humanitarians are using the incredible computing power of AI to tackle major social, political, and health issues around the world.

Here are ten surprising ways that AI is being used to help humanity today.

1. Raising awareness and money for humanitarian crises

Millions of Africans struggle to access clean, safe water every day. To raise awareness about this crisis, Charity:Water and Lokai have teamed up to create the Yeshi Messenger chatbot. Yeshi is an Ethiopian girl who must walk 2.5 hours every day to fetch clean water for her family. Although Yeshi is fictional, she represents the real daily experience of millions of young African women and girls.

When users chat with Yeshi, they are invited to walk with her and get a glimpse into her daily life. By letting users experience Yeshi’s struggles firsthand, the bot is humanizing the Ethiopian water crisis and encouraging people to take action. Charity:Water even uses a Facebook Messenger bot to make it easier for donors to make contributions directly through the app.

2. Providing free legal aid to society’s most vulnerable

It may seem far-fetched, but the AI-powered chatbot DoNotPay is being called the world’s first robot lawyer. The bot provides free legal services so that people can get the help they need without paying exorbitant lawyer fees.

The bot’s 19-year-old creator Joshua Browder first developed the bot to combat unjust parking fines. Users answer a series of questions about their circumstances, and the bot automatically drafts a challenge letter for them to send to local authorities. To date, the bot has helped overturn more than 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York, saving citizens an estimated $4 million. Since Browder originally released the DoNotPay chatbot, he’s expanded its capabilities to help homeless citizens apply for emergency housing.

DoNotPay Robot Lawyer - Artificial Intelligence
The DoNotPay chatbot helps homeless people apply for emergency housing.

3. Helping refugees seek asylum and social services

The global refugee crisis is reaching a fever pitch, with millions of citizens around the world displaced from their homes. Humanitarian organizations around the world are using artificial intelligence to connect refugees with the aid they need.

The DoNotPay chatbot has recently been expanded to help refugees claim asylum in the United States, the U.K., and Canada. The bot helps users fill out an immigration application, breaking down normally complicated legalese into straightforward questions about the user’s circumstances.

Other bots have been launched to give refugees access to helpful information and emotional support. The Refugee Text chatbot delivers refugees reliable and up-to-date information about where they can access local social services. Silicon Valley startup X2AI has also launched Karim, an artificial intelligence designed to give psychological support to Syrian refugees.

4. Promoting positive mental health

Facebook is using an AI algorithm to detect suicide risk in its users and offer help before it’s too late. The social media network has maintained a suicide prevention tool for several years, but until now, relied on other Facebook users to report concerns about a friend’s risk of suicide. Now, the AI algorithm automatically detects warning signs in a user’s posts and their friends’ responses. After potentially suicidal content is flagged, a human team reviews the case and reaches out to offer help.

The mental health tracker Joy also hopes to identify the warning signs of depression. The Facebook Messenger bot chats with users about their mood and keeps track of their emotional state over time. Although Joy currently cannot make diagnoses or connect users to mental health professionals, the bot does give users an avenue to open up about their feelings and monitor their emotional well-being.

5. Providing more accessible health care

Have you ever gotten sick and Googled your symptoms? Several new health chatbots are hoping to change that.

Buoy is a health bot designed to help you get better care from the moment you get sick. When you chat with Buoy, simply enter your symptoms, get a probable diagnosis, and get connected to local doctors to get the care you need.

Similarly, the GYANT chatbot is helping users in Zika-affected areas determine whether or not they may have contracted the disease. The bot asks users a series of questions about their symptoms and determines their likelihood of having Zika.

Chatbots are also helping people make healthier choices. Public Health England recently launched a Facebook Messenger bot to help smokers kick the habit. Part of the “Stoptober” campaign, the bot supports users when they feel a craving, suggesting activities like playing a game or going for a walk to take their mind off the urge to light up.

Stoptober Chatbot - Artificial Intelligence
The Stoptober chatbot distracts smokers from cravings so they can kick the habit for good.

6. Revolutionizing disease research and prevention

Not all artificial intelligence solutions come in chatbot form. Several AI firms are developing algorithms to speed up life-saving disease research.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan recently purchased the Canadian AI startup Meta as part of their mission to eradicate disease. The company uses AI algorithms to quickly parse scientific papers and deliver useful insights to researchers, speeding up the disease research process. The purchase was part of the $3 billion Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to eliminate or manage all disease within the next decade.

Google’s AI DeepMind is most famous for defeating human Go players, but now the company is also moving into health care. In collaboration with Moorfields Eye Hospital, the technology is being used to automate the analysis of CT scans, permitting earlier detection of potentially blinding eye diseases.

7. Reporting injustice and abuse in developing countries

UNICEF has developed the U-Report chatbot, which enables young people in developing countries to report injustice and abuse via SMS. The technology was recently used to uncover rampant sexual abuse of young girls in Liberian schools. U-Report users were asked if their teachers had ever solicited sex in exchange for their school grades. After an astounding 86% of poll respondents answered yes, countless other victims from around the country felt safe enough to reach out for support, and local authorities are now working to address the issue.

8. Increasing civic engagement

Following the recent election cycle, voter turnout issues are at the forefront of the American consciousness. Several chatbots have recently been developed to help citizens quickly and easily register to vote. The bots GoVoteBot, VotePlz, and HelloVote all let users complete their voter registration via SMS and Facebook Messenger. By simplifying the registration process and making it accessible from anywhere, they’re helping boost voter registration and turnout.

Your civic duty doesn’t end on election day. It’s equally important to make your voice heard after elections are over. But what if your elected representatives are difficult to reach? That’s where Resistbot comes in. Developed by a team of volunteers, the non-partisan bot turns ordinary SMS texts into faxes that are sent directly to your elected officials. The bot makes it easy to contact your state representatives and Senators, even those who don’t have email. Resistbot is helping Americans from all over the political spectrum stay involved in the political process.

9. Fighting pollution

The Hawa BadLo Messenger chatbot is helping fight India’s growing pollution problem. The bot helps users avoid dangerous atmospheric conditions by providing updates about local air quality levels. The bot also gives users precautionary safety tips and encourages people to reduce their carbon footprint by switching to cleaner fuel sources like natural gas.

Hawa Badlo Pollution Bot - Artificial Intelligence
The Hawa Badlo chatbot helps people avoid dangerous atmospheric conditions and reduce pollution.

10. Democratizing education

The popular language learning app Duolingo is a long-standing proponent of free education for all. The company recently added AI-powered chatbots to enhance their language learning software. Duolingo users can now chat with these virtual language tutors, putting the vocabulary and grammar they’ve learned into practice in lifelike conversations.

Duolingo Bots - Artificial Intelligence
Duolingo’s chatbots help people practice a new language in virtual conversations.

Professor Ashok Goel is revolutionizing online teaching with artificial intelligence. A computer science professor from Georgia Tech University, Goel recently created an artificially intelligent teaching assistant (TA) and used it to help teach one of his courses. Developed with IBM’s Watson AI platform, “Jane Watson” answers student questions just like a human TA; in fact, most of Goel’s students didn’t realize she wasn’t human until they were told at the end of the semester. Goel hopes that the virtual TA will help reduce dropout rates and boost student success in online courses.

Conclusion

Artificial intelligence may seem like the technology of the future, but it’s shaping our reality in surprising ways today. 

And with the rapid pace of progress, who knows what the future will bring?

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Which parts of the list surprised you the most? Did we miss any exciting ways artificial intelligence is being used today?

Let us know in the comments!