Gates Foundation funds 50 AI projects to improve health equity

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has selected about 50 […]

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has selected about 50 grant recipients developing global health and development solutions for their communities using AI-enabled large language models (LLMs).

This is following a vast response to its most recent Grand Challenges request for proposals. Guided by the goal of reducing global inequality, the call for proposals specifically targeted researchers and innovators in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

According to the foundation, responsible and safe use of AI-driven LLM technology has the potential to help solve some of the world’s toughest health and development challenges.

However, for these models to be helpful in LMICs, researchers in LMICs need to participate in the design, application, and testing of this technology as it rapidly evolves.

A robust evidence base will fill gaps in access and our knowledge about the application of such tools to address problems across LMICs in an equitable way, the foundation said.

“Too often, advances in technology deliver uneven benefits in many parts of the world due to existing patterns of discrimination, inequality, and bias,” said Juliana Rotich, co-founder of iHub, an incubator for Nairobi’s young technology entrepreneurs and who has agreed to serve on the foundation’s new AI Ethics and Safety Advisory committee.

“AI is no different, with most of the tools being developed in the Global North using data from lower-resourced regions that are often incomplete or inaccurate. To realize the full potential of AI, it must be developed responsibly and ethically, with the needs of the end user in mind. Solutions can be transformative when they are locally inspired.”

The selection is part of the foundation’s Grand Challenges program, a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve pressing global health and development problems.

The foundation received more than 1,300 proposals, more than 80 percent of which were from LMICs, within two weeks of posting its proposal request.

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The 50 selected projects from 17 LMICs are aligned with the foundation’s goal of fostering a global innovation ecosystem in places where it will have the most impact. Each recipient will receive up to US$100,000 to advance its research project, for a total of US$5 million in grants.

The findings of these projects will be shared at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in Dakar, Senegal, this October.

Zameer Brey, interim deputy director for Technology Diffusion at the Gates Foundation said the vibrant energy, creativity, and unwavering commitment from innovators to tackle the most vexing challenges has sparked a wave of interest and excitement in the positive impact AI can have in the lives of the vulnerable.

“These local innovators are harnessing the seismic power of AI and LLMs in ways that can be paradigm-shifting for their local communities and beyond. We believe the most impactful technological advancements include those that begin and end with the people they affect most,” Brey said.

Researchers will work to address a wide range of health and development challenges throughout LMICs including how LLMs can help frontline health workers in countries such as India, where one woman dies every 20 minutes in childbirth, improving the management of high-risk pregnancies.

“For 20 years, the foundation has sought and seeded innovation to solve the world’s hardest problems. We believe that accelerating progress in health and development requires collaboration among innovators from as many disciplines and as many countries as possible,” said Kedest Tesfagiorgis, deputy director of Global Partnerships and Grand Challenges at the Gates Foundation. “Maximizing the potential of AI requires a global community of creative thinkers bringing their unique perspectives and learning from each other.”

As these projects get underway, the foundation hopes to continue working with and learning from partners around the world to ensure the benefits of AI are relevant, affordable, and accessible to everyone, with an emphasis on LMIC communities, in a manner that upholds safety, ethics, and equity.

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