Tech giants use AI to fight famine in coordination with international groups

Google, Amazon and Microsoft are linking arms with international organizations to use artificial intelligence to identify and prevent famines.

International organizations including the World Bank, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross are partnering with leading technology firms to launch Famine Action Mechanism (FAM)—an initiative to harness the predictive power of data to prevent famine.

In 2017, according to the World Bank, more than 20 million people faced famine or famine-like conditions across northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan. Responses from humanitarian organizations have often come too late, after many lives have already been lost.

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“The FAM seeks to change this by moving towards famine prevention, preparedness and early action—interventions that can save more lives and reduce humanitarian costs by as much as 30 percent,” the World Bank said in a statement made on Sunday.

The tech giants are joining forces to provide expertise to develop a set of tools called “Artemis” that will use AI and machine learning to estimate and predict food insecurity in real time, thus allowing authorities and agencies to respond faster.

“Artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies can be a powerful force for good, and we've already seen that they have the potential to help farmers identify disease in cassava plants, keep cows healthier and more productive, and integrate overall relief efforts,” said Kent Walker, Google's Senior Vice President of Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer, in a statement.

“Google is proud to partner with the World Bank on the Famine Action Mechanism to help prevent future famine in communities around the world,” he added.

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Amazon, Google and Microsoft already use AI in a range of different ways and have big ambitions for the technology.

The partnership between tech giants and international groups will be rolled out first to a smaller group of vulnerable countries and later globally. It builds on U.N. work that puts prevention at the top of efforts to address food insecurity, poverty and famine.

“Famines have been part of the whole human history throughout human history. In fact, probably the worse famine the world has ever seen took place during my lifetime”, said United National Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock on Monday during the General Assembly in New York.

Lowcock continued: “But it’s also the case that famine has become much rarer. There have only been only two declared famines during the last 20 years. ... The FAM can help us get all countries beyond the scourge.”