Digital Skills | Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG
November 28, 2019

How ‘augmented intelligence’ can transform SDG delivery

By Pratik Bhatnagar and Rathan Kinhal

In just 25 years, e-mail technology and the Internet have transformed how we work and interact, how we transact and bank, and how we travel, educate and enjoy leisure. It is increasingly difficult to imagine how we were able to accomplish anything prior to the introduction of such technologies.

This is a good example of what global design firm IDEO calls “augmented intelligence”; applying technology to extend the capacity of human beings.

As widespread mainstreaming of technological innovation continues to fundamentally transform the societies we live in, the time has come to rethink and reinvent traditional capacity building into opportunities for “upskilling”, based on the new spectrum of technologies available, squarely putting the conversation on capacity building for SDGs – for example, in the context of the “Future of Work”.

Traditional capacity-building programmes in international development have not yet adapted to this “technology everywhere” reality, nor its potential.

Seen in this way, capacity building should orient people towards integrating human and computing capacity to deliver social impact at lower costs, expanding the skill sets and capabilities of the economies in which these programs are conducted, preparing them for the inevitable, technologically-driven future.

Augmented Intelligence in practice

In our current era of augmented intelligence, human capacity is growing by quantum leaps every couple of years, allowing us to quickly expand our ability to solve the world’s most pressing problems as outlined in the 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Drone technologies, for example, augmented the capacity of forest rangers and environmental enforcers in the forests of Nepal to achieve 365 days of zero poaching in 2018 of its flagship species – tiger, rhino and elephant. This was achieved in part through improved mapping, tracking, object recognition and analytical capabilities via deployment of unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs), alongside less technological interventions, such as the deployment of sniffer dogs and routine, physical, forest-ranger surveillance.

In Andhra Pradesh, India, the real-time governance (RTG) institutional framework uses technology to address public grievances more effectively while augmenting the capacity of bureaucrats. The RTG’s framework, with its command and communication centre, utilizes data input from closed-circuit cameras, drones, biometric-augmented technology, virtual reality, machine learning technology and Internet of Things (IoT), to model and predict disasters, assess crop yields in advance and develop sea and weather forecasts.

The SDGs cannot be achieved in the time that has been set until the scale economies and efficiencies of humans working in partnership with technologies is embedded in programme design.

In volume and in outcome, none of this would have been possible by the collective bureaucracy only a few years ago, let alone by the lone efforts of individual bureaucrats. It is a clear example of what is possible when computing power and human capacity are designed to work in partnership for driving social impact.

Improving capacity building for social impact

Traditional capacity-building programmes in international development have not yet adapted to this “technology everywhere” reality, nor its potential.

The idea of computer power partnering with human capacity building can scale in innovative ways. For example, Internet Saathi is an initiative in India sponsored by Tata Trusts and Google that aims to address the digital divide in rural India by introducing a digital literacy programme for women. It uses a ‘train the trainer’ model, where the Internet Saathis (i.e. already computer-literate women), recruit women from villages Internet training with data-enabled devices.

The Internet Saathi programme grew women’s entrepreneurial capacity and enhanced their ability to expand opportunities for their home and community-based business which in turn helped develop sustainable livelihoods.

Today, 13.5 million women from 130,000 Indian villages have been trained to use the Internet by over 36,000 trained Internet Saathis, with many becoming social entrepreneurs running their own Internet-enabled businesses.

To ensure this kind of impact, requires far-reaching changes to programmatic design, change management and digital transformation across the social sector. Such relevant models need to be identified, improvised, scaled and replicated in other areas to accelerate social value creation.

The SDGs cannot be achieved in the time that has been set until the scale economies and efficiencies of humans working in partnership with technologies is embedded in programme design.

Read the full article in the Digital Skills Insights 2019 publication.

ITU’s Digital Skills Insights puts together scholarly articles with a focus on capacity building and skills development in the digital era. Submit your abstract for Digital Skills Insights 2020 by 30 November 2019.

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How 'augmented intelligence' can transform SDG delivery

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