How artificial intelligence could transform charities and charitable giving

2 June 2017

The likes of Siri, Cortana and Alexa could help transform the way people give to charity in the future.

An article published today by Giving Thought, the charity think tank of the Charities Aid Foundation, explores how artificial intelligence (AI) could lead to the development of effective, low-cost philanthropy advice, drive greater amounts of giving and help people to give more effectively.

The piece, written by Giving Thought Programme Leader Rhodri Davies, sets out how AI could reduce the cost of philanthropy advice, help people choose how to give, what they want to achieve and identify where need is greatest and which causes might maximise social outcomes and donor satisfaction.

It concludes that while artificial intelligence presents many challenges and opportunities for philanthropy, one of the most likely impacts will be to make philanthropy advice a mass market-commodity easily available to the wider public, rather than just the preserve of wealthier philanthropists.

Charities have already started to embrace artificial intelligence technology in delivering their mission. Examples include:

  • Chatbots / Personal assistants. Arthritis Research UK have partnered with Microsoft to pilot a service based on its Watson AI that can provide users with tailored information about the condition. One benefit of this could be enabling charities to make information more accessible and response to the particular needs of beneficiaries.
  • Live translation. The Children’s Society has begun experimenting with using Microsoft’s AI-powered live translation tools to try and overcome some of these barriers in its work with young refugees and migrants in London. This technology enables you to hold a direct conversation using a mobile phone or VOIP software (such as Skype), and have your speech translated into another language in real time.
  • Conservation and poaching prevention. There are a number of examples of organisations using AI to tackle poaching in Africa. A team of machine learning experts at the University of Southern California has developed an AI-driven service called Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS), which analyses years worth of data on poaching behaviour and uses game theory to suggest optimised routes for ranger patrols.
  • Making research easier. It was announced earlier this year than Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic venture the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) had purchased a startup called Meta, which had developed an AI that could help scientists navigate, read and prioritize the millions of academic papers in existence. Charities (particularly in areas such as healthcare) do an enormous amount of research as part of trying to achieve their mission, and could benefit enormously from a tool of this kind.
  • AI as a new charitable cause. Quite a lot of the focus on AI and philanthropy to date has been on the potential dangers posed by AI including everything from reinforcement of social bias to total annihilation of the human race, as famously highlighted by Professor Stephen Hawking, and the need for philanthropic funders to support initiatives designed to combat or at least mitigate these risks. The Open Philanthropy Initiative (a joint venture between Good Ventures, the philanthropic foundation of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna, and the Effective Altruism organisation GiveWell) has made “potential risks from advanced artificial intelligence” one of its focus areas.

Further details of how charities are using AI are set out in this separate piece.

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