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Artificial Intelligence (AI) often has an ominous connotation to it: The robots are going to take over. They’ll be smarter, more resourceful, and void of emotion, empathy, and compassion. Once their intelligence surpasses our own, they will be able to replicate themselves and evolve so rapidly that eventually, they will conclude that humans are merely a less-evolved nuisance. Through calculations based solely on cold logic, they will ultimately decide to enslave or exterminate us all. Hasta la vista, baby. 

However, like most Malthusian, doom-and-gloom predictions about new, life-changing technologies, the reality is probably far less apocalyptic, and humanity may very well find itself exponentially better off than before. According to a recent article in New Science, AI is currently being deployed to assist the modern anti-slavery movement.

Online volunteers are helping to track slavery from space. A new crowdsourcing project aims to identify South Asian brick kilns – frequently the site of forced labour – in satellite images.

This data will then be used to train machine learning algorithms to automatically recognise brick kilns in satellite imagery. If computers can pinpoint the location of possible slavery sites, then the coordinates could be passed to local non-governmental organisations to investigate, says Kevin Bales, who is leading the project at the University of Nottingham in the UK […]

No one is quite sure how many kilns there are in the so called “Brick Belt” that stretches across parts of Pakistan, India and Nepal. Some estimates put the figure at 20,000, but it may be as high as 50,000.

Bales is hoping that his machine learning approach will produce a more accurate number and help organisations on the ground know where to direct their anti-slavery efforts.

Volunteers view satellite images from Google Earth and then click on ones that contain brick kilns. To date, volunteers have discovered over 4,000 potential sites of forced human labor. As the volunteers discover more and more sites, machines begin to recognize them on their own. Bales plans to expand the project to uncover other slave sites, such as pit mines in the Congo.

Unfortunately, simply discovering the sites does not mean that the people laboring at them gain their freedom. All the volunteers can do at this point is alert local NGOs to investigate. But the promising use of AI to recognize situations in which crimes are occurring and people are being trafficked and exploited could have far-reaching consequences.

TraffickCam is a similar project that uses image-locating technology to geo-locate hotel rooms used for sex trafficking. Volunteers all over the world snap photos of their hotel rooms and submit them to the TraffickCam website. When online sex advertisements depicting the victim are posted on the internet, AI technology can assist investigators in determining the victim’s location by comparing the room to the vast database of images.

Of course, this is a nascent technology and, as always, we’re unlikely to ever achieve some kind of techno-utopia. But trends such as these are encouraging. Rather than imprisoning us all in The Matrix, AI could someday be used to advance the cause of human rights and dignity further than ever before.

 

Delve deeper into how AI is changing our lives with this content brief, Just How Often Are Our AI Assistants Listening to Our Conversations?

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