Selfishly a few times a year, my data science team and I donate our time to working on a data problem for a charity, for example this work we did for Muscular Dystrophy UK. Selfishly you say? I’ll get to that in a moment.
AI For Good, Data Science For Social Good, Data For Good, they all boil down to the same thing. Applying the latest in Artificial Intelligence (Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Computer Vision) to just and social causes. The UN have built a framework and host an annual AI For Good conference to promote the movement, and even universities such as Warwick and Imperial in the UK are getting in on the act, promising to “train data scientists to tackle problems that really matter”.
Public institutions aren’t the only ones now offering support to the cause. Tech giant Microsoft have a whole web page dedicated to AI For Good, with grants available for agriculture, health and environmental projects. Perhaps stemmed from a new Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) drive, or influence from their founder Bill Gates. Either way it provides much needed resources to some of our current day environmental and humanitarian plights.
You may recall the episode in Friends where Joey provokes Phoebe by saying “There’s no unselfish good deed.” Phoebe then spends the rest of the episode trying to disprove this theory, but to no avail. All good deeds have a hidden benefit, whether its emotional or otherwise.
As I mentioned, we selfishly contribute to this AI For Good movement in our own small way as well. There are so many benefits, that I’m not going to pretend we do it just to feel good (which we do). I want to encourage others to join the movement (another selfish deed?), so what better way than to highlight the benefits.
The UK’s a global leader in ‘tech for good’
Selfish Reason 1: Recruitment
Perhaps the most obvious benefit? People care about the work they do. It should be meaningful. You want to go home at the end of the day and feel like you’ve achieved something worthwhile. So if you can offer smart Data Scientists and Engineers the chance to not only earn a decent wage contributing to commercial projects, but also balance their time with socially impactful projects, then it’s a win-win. Peter Thiel’s company, Palantir is a great example of this. The +$12Bn valued business works on a lot of government contracts, think CIA and FBI. But they also apply their workforce to what they call Philanthropy Engineering.
Its great CSR to publish on your blog and websites, and potential new employees can get a sense of the culture your company encourages.
Selfish Reason 2: Innovation
As consultants we work at the beck and call of our clients. Sometimes we get to work on some innovative approaches to Artificial Intelligence, but as we need to provide solid results that we can guarantee, that often means not veering too far from the known.
Therefore, when we start an AI For Good project, it’s an exciting opportunity for us to try out some new techniques away from our lab, and out in the open with real data. The Muscular Dystrophy project I mentioned earlier, is a great example of where we were able to try something new. We built an automatic tagger that identified MD disease types from very little trained data. Something we’d not done before.
There have been clear benefits for us gained from this pro-bono work. This experimentation led to innovation that we’ve been able to use with commercial clients, enabling us to deliver projects in a much shorter time-frame with less data annotation required.
Tech for good: Norwegian Refugee Council’s digital transformation strategy
Technology has the potential to improve productivity and boost profits. But, more importantly, the applications of technology can help address the most abhorrent social and environmental issues facing the modern world — tech for good. Read here
Selfish Reason 3: Team building
Don’t pay silly amounts of money to hang like a monkey from a tree top, or throw axes like a Viking at pictures on a wall in an underground car park. Instead, take your team on a team building exercise that costs nothing, but means everything.
When we work on an AI For Good project with a charity. We get the whole team together (we’re a distributed team with remote workers across Europe). It’s a great chance for us to bond and work together on a single project with absolute focus and determination. There’s more pizza and cake than Homer Simpson could dream of, and we usually finish the project with a presentation to the charity and a few drinks afterwards. Its unbelievably rewarding, and everyone leaves the project feeling awesome. Priceless.
For other technology SME’s that want to get involved with an AI For Good project, there are some great resources available, including the AI For Good Foundation. All it takes is an email or a phone call and you could be getting selfishly rewarded for doing meaningful things too.
For 3rd Sector organisations wanting to work with Skim Technologies, email email@example.com.