The Potential of Artificial Intelligence for the SDGs and Official Statistics

Report by Paris21: “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact on people’s lives is growing rapidly. AI is already leading to significant developments from healthcare to education, which can contribute to the efficient monitoring and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a call to action to address the world’s greatest challenges. AI is also raising concerns because, if not addressed carefully, its risks may outweigh its benefits. As a result, AI is garnering increasing attention from National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and the official statistics community as they are challenged to produce more, comprehensive, timely, and highquality data for decision-making with limited resources in a rapidly changing world of data and technologies and in light of complex and converging global issues from pandemics to climate change. This paper has been prepared as an input to the “Data and AI for Sustainable Development: Building a Smarter Future” Conference, organized in partnership with The Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Building on case studies that examine the use of AI by NSOs, the paper presents the benefits and risks of AI with a focus on NSO operations related to sustainable development. The objective is to spark discussions and to initiate a dialogue around how AI can be leveraged to inform decisions and take action to better monitor and achieve sustainable development, while mitigating its risks…(More)”.

AI for Good: Applications in Sustainability, Humanitarian Action, and Health

Book by Juan M. Lavista Ferres and William B. Weeks: “…an insightful and fascinating discussion of how one of the world’s most recognizable software companies is tacking intractable social problems with the power of artificial intelligence (AI). In the book, you’ll learn about how climate change, illness and disease, and challenges to fundamental human rights are all being fought using replicable methods and reusable AI code.

The authors also provide:

  • Easy-to-follow, non-technical explanations of what AI is and how it works
  • Examinations of how healthcare is being improved, climate change is being addressed, and humanitarian aid is being facilitated around the world with AI
  • Discussions of the future of AI in the realm of social benefit organizations and efforts

An essential guide to impactful social change with artificial intelligence, AI for Good is a must-read resource for technical and non-technical professionals interested in AI’s social potential, as well as policymakers, regulators, NGO professionals, and, and non-profit volunteers…(More)”.

Predicting IMF-Supported Programs: A Machine Learning Approach

Paper by Tsendsuren Batsuuri, Shan He, Ruofei Hu, Jonathan Leslie and Flora Lutz: “This study applies state-of-the-art machine learning (ML) techniques to forecast IMF-supported programs, analyzes the ML prediction results relative to traditional econometric approaches, explores non-linear relationships among predictors indicative of IMF-supported programs, and evaluates model robustness with regard to different feature sets and time periods. ML models consistently outperform traditional methods in out-of-sample prediction of new IMF-supported arrangements with key predictors that align well with the literature and show consensus across different algorithms. The analysis underscores the importance of incorporating a variety of external, fiscal, real, and financial features as well as institutional factors like membership in regional financing arrangements. The findings also highlight the varying influence of data processing choices such as feature selection, sampling techniques, and missing data imputation on the performance of different ML models and therefore indicate the usefulness of a flexible, algorithm-tailored approach. Additionally, the results reveal that models that are most effective in near and medium-term predictions may tend to underperform over the long term, thus illustrating the need for regular updates or more stable – albeit potentially near-term suboptimal – models when frequent updates are impractical…(More)”.

Responsible Data Re-use in Developing Countries: Social Licence through Public Engagement

Report by Stefaan Verhulst, Laura Sandor, Natalia Mejia Pardo, Elena Murray and Peter Addo: “The datafication era has transformed the technological landscape, digitizing multiple areas of human life and offering opportunities for societal progress through the re-use of digital data. Developing countries stand to benefit from datafication but are faced with challenges like insufficient data quality and limited infrastructure. One of the primary obstacles to unlocking data re-use lies in agency asymmetries—disparities in decision-making authority among stakeholders—which fuel public distrust. Existing consent frameworks amplify the challenge, as they are individual-focused, lack information, and fail to address the nuances of data re-use. To address these limitations, a Social License for re-use becomes imperative—a community-focused approach that fosters responsible data practices and benefits all stakeholders. This shift is crucial for establishing trust and collaboration, and bridging the gap between institutions, governments, and citizens…(More)”.

Breaking the Gridlock

UNDP Human Development Report 2024: “We can do better than this. Better than runaway climate change and pandemics. Better than a spate of unconstitutional transfers of power amid a rising, globalizing tide of populism. Better than cascading human rights violations and unconscionable massacres of people in their homes and civic venues, in hospitals, schools and shelters.

We must do better than a world always on the brink, a socioecological house of cards. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, to our children and their children.

We have so much going for us.

We know what the global challenges are and who will be most affected by them. And we know there will surely be more that we cannot anticipate today.

We know which choices offer better opportunities for peace, shared prosperity and sustainability, better ways to navigate interacting layers of uncertainty and interlinked planetary surprises.

We enjoy unprecedented wealth know-how and technology—unimaginable to our ancestors—that with more equitable distribution and use could power bold and necessary choices for peace and for sustainable, inclusive human development on which peace depends…

In short, why are we so stuck? And how do we get unstuck without resorting myopically to violence or isolationism? These questions motivate the 2023–2024 Human Development Report.

Sharp questions belie their complexity; issues with power disparities at their core often defy easy explanation. Magic bullets entice but mislead—siren songs peddled by sloganeering that exploits group-based grievances. Slick solutions and simple recipes poison our willingness to do the hard work of overcoming polarization.

Geopolitical quagmires abound, driven by shifting power dynamics among states and by national gazes yanked inward by inequalities, insecurity and polarization, all recurring themes in this and recent Human Development Reports. Yet we need not sit on our hands simply because great power competition is heating up while countries underrepresented in global governance seek a greater say in matters of global import. Recall that global cooperation on smallpox eradication and protection of the ozone layer, among other important issues such as nuclear nonproliferation, happened over the course of the Cold War…(More)”.

Scaling Up Development Impact

Book by Isabel Guerrero with Siddhant Gokhale and Jossie Fahsbender: “Today, nearly one billion people lack electricity, over three billion lack clean water, and 750 million lack basic literacy skills. Many of these challenges could be solved with existing solutions, and technology enables us to reach the last mile like never before. Yet, few solutions attain the necessary scale to match the size of these challenges. Scaling Up Development Impact offers an analytical framework, a set of practical tools, and adaptive evaluation techniques to accompany the scaling process. It presents rich organizational experiences that showcase real-world journeys toward increased impact…(More)”.

Data Must Speak: Positive Deviance Research

Report by UNICEF: “Despite the global learning crisis, even in the most difficult contexts, there are some “positive deviant” schools that outperform others in terms of learning, gender equality, and retention. Since 2019, in line with UNICEF’s Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Programme, Data Must Speak (DMS) research identifies these positive deviant schools, explores which behaviours and practices make them outperform others, and investigates how these could be implemented in lower performing schools in similar contexts. DMS research uses a sequential, participatory, mixed-methods approach to improve uptake, replicability, and sustainability. The research is being undertaken in 14 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America…(More)”.

The 5 Stages of Data Must Speak Research

The AI project pushing local languages to replace French in Mali’s schools

Article by Annie Risemberg and Damilare Dosunmu: “For the past six months,Alou Dembele, a27-year-oldengineer and teacher, has spent his afternoons reading storybooks with children in the courtyard of a community school in Mali’s capital city, Bamako. The books are written in Bambara — Mali’s most widely spoken language — and include colorful pictures and stories based on local culture. Dembele has over 100 Bambara books to pick from — an unimaginable educational resource just a year ago.

From 1960 to 2023, French was Mali’s official language. But in June last year, the military government replaced it in favor of 13 local languages, creating a desperate need for new educational materials.

Artificial intelligence came to the rescue: RobotsMali, a government-backed initiative, used tools like ChatGPT, Google Translate, and free-to-use image-maker Playgroundto create a pool of 107 books in Bambara in less than a year. Volunteer teachers, like Dembele, distribute them through after-school classes. Within a year, the books have reached over 300 elementary school kids, according to RobotsMali’s co-founder, Michael Leventhal. They are not only helping bridge the gap created after French was dropped but could also be effective in helping children learn better, experts told Rest of World…(More)”.

The world needs an International Decade for Data–or risk splintering into AI ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ UN researchers warn

Article by Tshilidzi Marwala and David Passarelli: “The rapid rise in data-driven technologies is shaping how many of us live–from biometric data collected by our smartwatches, artificial intelligence (AI) tools and models changing how we work, to social media algorithms that seem to know more about our content preferences than we do. Greater amounts of data are affecting all aspects of our lives, and indeed, society at large.

This explosion in data risks creating new inequalities, equipping a new set of “haves” who benefit from the power of data while excluding, or even harming, a set of “have-nots”–and splitting the international community into “data-poor” and “data-rich” worlds.

We know that data, when harnessed correctly, can be a powerful tool for sustainable development. Intelligent and innovative use of data can support public health systems, improve our understanding of climate change and biodiversity loss, anticipate crises, and tackle deep-rooted structural injustices such as racism and economic inequality.

However, the vast quantity of data is fueling an unregulated Wild West. Instead of simply issuing more warnings, governments must instead work toward good governance of data on a global scale. Due to the rapid pace of technological innovation, policies intended to protect society will inevitably fall behind. We need to be more ambitious.

To begin with, governments must ensure that the benefits derived from data are equitably distributed by establishing global ground rules for data collection, sharing, taxation, and re-use. This includes dealing with synthetic data and cross-border data flows…(More)”.

Testing the Assumptions of the Data Revolution

Report by TRENDS: “Ten years have passed since the release of A World that Counts and the formal adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This seems an appropriate time for national governments and the global data community to reflect on where progress has been made so far. 

This report supports this objective in three ways: it evaluates the assumptions that underpin A World that Counts’ core hypothesis that the data revolution would lead to better outcomes across the 17 SDGs, it summarizes where and how we have made progress, and it identifies knowledge gaps related to each assumption. These knowledge gaps will serve as the foundation for the next phase of the SDSN TReNDS research program, guiding our exploration of emerging data-driven paradigms and their implications for the SDGs. By analyzing these assumptions, we can consider how SDSN TReNDs and other development actors might adapt their activities to a new set of circumstances in the final six years of the SDG commitments.

Given that the 2030 Agenda established a 15-year timeframe for SDG attainment, it is to be expected that some of A World that Counts’ key assumptions would fall short or require recalibration along the way. Unforeseen events such as the COVID-19 pandemic would inevitably shift global attention and priorities away from the targets set out in the SDG framework, at least temporarily…(More)”.