How Charities Are Using Artificial Intelligence to Boost Impact

Nicole Wallace at the Chronicle of Philanthropy: “The chaos and confusion of conflict often separate family members fleeing for safety. The nonprofit Refunite uses advanced technology to help loved ones reconnect, sometimes across continents and after years of separation.

Refugees register with the service by providing basic information — their name, age, birthplace, clan and subclan, and so forth — along with similar facts about the people they’re trying to find. Powerful algorithms search for possible matches among the more than 1.1 million individuals in the Refunite system. The analytics are further refined using the more than 2,000 searches that the refugees themselves do daily.

The goal: find loved ones or those connected to them who might help in the hunt. Since Refunite introduced the first version of the system in 2010, it has helped more than 40,000 people reconnect.

One factor complicating the work: Cultures define family lineage differently. Refunite co-founder Christopher Mikkelsen confronted this problem when he asked a boy in a refugee camp if he knew where his mother was. “He asked me, ‘Well, what mother do you mean?’ ” Mikkelsen remembers. “And I went, ‘Uh-huh, this is going to be challenging.’ ”

Fortunately, artificial intelligence is well suited to learn and recognize different family patterns. But the technology struggles with some simple things like distinguishing the image of a chicken from that of a car. Mikkelsen believes refugees in camps could offset this weakness by tagging photographs — “car” or “not car” — to help train algorithms. Such work could earn them badly needed cash: The group hopes to set up a system that pays refugees for doing such work.

“To an American, earning $4 a day just isn’t viable as a living,” Mikkelsen says. “But to the global poor, getting an access point to earning this is revolutionizing.”

Another group, Wild Me, a nonprofit created by scientists and technologists, has created an open-source software platform that combines artificial intelligence and image recognition, to identify and track individual animals. Using the system, scientists can better estimate the number of endangered animals and follow them over large expanses without using invasive techniques….

To fight sex trafficking, police officers often go undercover and interact with people trying to buy sex online. Sadly, demand is high, and there are never enough officers.

Enter Seattle Against Slavery. The nonprofit’s tech-savvy volunteers created chatbots designed to disrupt sex trafficking significantly. Using input from trafficking survivors and law-enforcement agencies, the bots can conduct simultaneous conversations with hundreds of people, engaging them in multiple, drawn-out conversations, and arranging rendezvous that don’t materialize. The group hopes to frustrate buyers so much that they give up their hunt for sex online….

A Philadelphia charity is using machine learning to adapt its services to clients’ needs.

Benefits Data Trust helps people enroll for government-assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid. Since 2005, the group has helped more than 650,000 people access $7 billion in aid.

The nonprofit has data-sharing agreements with jurisdictions to access more than 40 lists of people who likely qualify for government benefits but do not receive them. The charity contacts those who might be eligible and encourages them to call the Benefits Data Trust for help applying….(More)”.