APRU on Bloomberg: The next stage: APRU-Google-UN ESCAP AI for Social Good Project now working directly with government agencies
November 28, 2022
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Original post on Bloomberg.

The AI for Social Good Project – Strengthening AI Capabilities and Governing Frameworks in Asia and the Pacific has recently passed the milestone of onboarding two key government agencies.

The project is the latest collaboration between the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), UN ESCAP, and Google.org, which commenced in mid-2021 and will run until the end of 2023. Over the past year, meetings and workshops have been held with government agencies from Thailand and Bangladesh. The confirmed government partners to join the project are the Office of National Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Policy Council (NXPO) of Thailand, in close collaboration with the National Electronics and Computer Center (NECTEC) and the National Science and Technology Development Agency and the Institute of Field Robotics (FIBO) under the King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, and the Bangladesh Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Programme. NXPO and a2i are affiliated with Thailand’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation and the ICT Division and Cabinet Division of Bangladesh, respectively.

The AI for Social Good multi-stakeholder network was initially set up in 2019, among the first milestones being the creation of a platform that convenes leading experts from the region to explore opportunities and challenges for maximizing AI benefits for society. After these activities engaged a wide range of policy experts and practitioners, the three project partners decided that it was the right time to move on to the next stage of working directly with government agencies to apply the insights generated through the collaborative project to date. The aim has been to work with government partners in Asia and the Pacific to grow sound and transparent AI ecosystems that support sustainable development goals.

“Recognizing that AI offers transformative solutions for achieving the SDGs, we are pleased to participate in the AI for Social Good Project to share experience and research insights to develop enabling AI policy frameworks,” said Dr. Kanchana Wanichkorn, NXPO’s Vice President.

NXPO identified ‘Poverty Alleviation’ and ‘Medicine and Healthcare’ as two areas of need that are now tackled by two academic project teams. To alleviate poverty and inequality, the Thai government has developed data-driven decision-making systems to improve public access to state welfare programs. The project, under the academic leadership of the Australia National University (ANU) team, will focus on enhancing the human-centered design and public accessibility of these technologies to support successful implementation. In addition, research on AI for medical applications has increased exponentially in the past few years in Thailand. However, the progress in developing and applying AI from research to market in these areas is relatively slow. To support and accelerate the use of AI in medicine and healthcare, the expert team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) will focus their research and analysis on identifying crucial bottlenecks and gaps that impede the beneficial use of AI.

While the two Bangladesh projects both focus on the need for ‘Continuing and Personalized Pregnancy Monitoring’ (to improve health outcomes during and after birth), they are exploring different aspects of this key focus area for the government of Bangladesh. Under the leadership of the team from NUS & KAIST, the first project investigates challenges in perceptions and reception of incorporating AI into continuous pregnancy monitoring systems. Under the leadership of the University of Hawai‘i Team, the second project circles in on technological issues of Bangladesh’s healthcare sector and their impacts on AI-based data analysis and decision-making processes.

The academic integrity of both sets of country projects is overseen by Toni Erskine, Professor of International Politics and Director of the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at ANU. Erskine guides both the conception of the research questions in collaboration with the government partners and the delivery of the project outputs by providing support for the four academic teams in developing their projects.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to lead a project that brings together such an impressive, multidisciplinary group of researchers with government agencies that are so passionate about finding solutions to crucial problems – ranging from poverty alleviation to maternal health care,” Erskine said. She added that “the process of working closely with government agencies from the outset to discuss these problems and co-design research questions makes this project unique and genuinely collaborative. I’m very proud to be part of it.”

The following steps for the ‘AI for Social Good Project: Strengthening AI Capabilities and Governing Frameworks in Asia and the Pacific’ project will be to review and discuss the first complete drafts of the research papers by the four academic teams at a workshop in January. The partner government agencies from Bangladesh and Thailand will attend the workshop. Workshops with both government teams will also follow the presentation of final papers in the second quarter of 2023. To mark the project’s conclusion, a summit with all participants in the project will be held in mid-2023 at the Australia National University.

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APRU AI for Social Good

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