How the Deloitte AI Institute is closing the digital divide

Gen AI is driving a wedge into the already wide digital divide, but Deloitte is taking meaningful steps to address this and deliver on equality and SDG 9

We hear often about the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but rarely dig deeper into what those actually are.

Take SDG 9, for instance, which seeks to ‘build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation’.

Part of that is ensuring that everyone has access to the internet by 2030, yet close to three billion people do not have that ability. In the developed world, over 80% of people have access, but in the developing world, that figure drops to 35% – with the poorest and remotest missing out most, not to mention minorities

This is what is often referred to as the digital divide, and it’s only getting wider.

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the haves and have nots when it comes to the ability to work remotely, online, so the emergence of AI technology is driving a wedge between those with the skills and those without.

Whereas previously it was about who had access to a computer and the internet, now it’s also about who is a passenger and who is driving the new digital age.

Any progress being made via AI (such as in healthcare and education) is irrelevant to those not online, but if you are also not leveraging the digital tools available you are also missing out and being left behind.

Anyone dismissing AI as a gimmick should take note: A recent Deloitte Insights report showed 61% of respondents say AI will substantially transform their industry in the next three to five years, with 53% of organisations spending more than US$20 million in the past 12 months on AI.

As Deloitte puts it, the ‘Age of With’ – human work enhanced with AI – is upon us.

The Deloitte AI Incubator

Deloitte shares in-house Gen AI platform PairD

In an attempt to close the digital divide, the Deloitte AI Institute addresses areas of AI including risks, policies, ethics, future of work and talent, and applied AI use cases. Deloitte is also running a generative AI fluency programme, which it expects to roll out worldwide.

As part of this long-term ambition, the consultancy is also providing free access to its own, in-house Generative AI platform – PairD – to a leading disability equality charity, as well as to 75,000 employees across Europe and the Middle East.

PairD has been designed to help staff with day-to-day tasks, such as drafting content, writing code, and carrying out research. PairD can also aid with project and task management.

Scope is the charity benefiting from access, with its 800 employees shedding light on the barriers encountered by people who are not digitally native and have disabilities.

“Generative AI should be available and accessible to everyone and businesses like ours must ensure that the adoption of AI promotes social equality rather than exacerbating existing disparities,” said Richard Houston, CEO of Deloitte UK and Deloitte North & South Europe. 

“But it’s not only about access to technology – it’s access to the skills to use it that will really create opportunity to help close the digital divide.”

According to Scope’s CEO Mark Hodgkinson, nearly 25% of people in the UK are disabled, and are often overlooked when it comes to advances in technology. He says it’s important that technology is used as a force for good for everyone and that AI can be a great enabler for disabled people.

Deloitte has also donated more than 12,000 laptops to schools, charities and other groups to tackle the growing digital skills gap.

On top of that there is the Deloitte Digital Connect programme that helps charities and social enterprises boost their digital impact.

The firm has also launched the Global Generative AI Market Incubator, to provide new concepts and solutions in Gen AI.

“Our Generative AI platform is part of long-term AI investment plans, as we continue to explore the potential that this technology could offer our firm, our clients and wider society,” said Costi Perricos, Generative AI leader at Deloitte.

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