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Facebook AI in India: Scholarships, support for women-led startups, courses in ML and more

Facebook will back women-led AI startups, offer 100 scholarships for projects in AI, and introduce an innovation accelerator focused on AI for social good. It announced the initiatives in its AI for Social Good Summit held in Bangalore yesterday.

Facebook’s key announcements:

  • 100 scholarships for students and developers to support projects using AI for social good. The scholarships will let the recipients access advanced courses on Deep Learning.
  • ‘Women in AI’ Hackathons aimed at encouraging women developers and women-led start-ups focused on AI. Winners will be provided courses on AI and ML by professors of IIT Madras.
  • AI training: Facebook will conduct application-based AI trainings under the Facebook Hubs program, to startups in 20 locations. It is aimed at helping startups scale their businesses, and will host mentor hours and workshops.
  • India Innovation Accelerator will focus on AI for Social Good, Facebook will offer mentorship and ‘support to promising startups’ working in AI for social impact in women safety, agriculture, education, healthcare, climate change, and resilient cities etc.

So far, Facebook has developed an AI-powered ‘Blood Donation Tool’ which connects blood banks with registered blood donors. Over 35 million people have signed up to be donors globally, the company said.

Facebook has also partnered with NGO Seeds India to prepare disaster maps for Kerala during last year’s floods. The maps used aggregated and de-identified Facebook data to track people’s movement to demarcate flood-hit areas from safe zones. Facebook claims that this helped Seeds and other rescue organisations to “appropriately time their early recovery and relief operations”.

Facebook AI’s product director Ragavan Srinivasan said that the company is looking to “advance AI in a responsible and inclusive manner” to build products for India. The summit saw discussions on how AI could be used in healthcare, education, agriculture, and crisis/disaster mitigation in line with the Niti Aayog’s paper on National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence.

Notes on the development of the blood donation tool

The tool was launched in India in 2017, and now is available in Bangladesh, Brazil, and Pakistan, with plans to expand to more countries. Facebook partnered with blood banks in India and Brazil to conduct in-person surveys in October and November 2018. It claims that one in five donors said that Facebook influenced their decision to give blood.

The training process started with the system simply looking for posts that contained relevant keywords, such as “blood” and “drive.”…

… When we later expanded the feature to work in more countries, our engineers adjusted the system to accommodate additional languages and different character sets. In Pakistan, for example, the AI was trained to recognize posts that were related to blood donation and written either in Urdu characters or in Anglicized Urdu

…. This degree of focused optimization is not only by design but also in keeping with how we approach and apply the blood donations feature. It takes into account country-specific issues, such as the ability to analyze posts in Pakistan written in Urdu script. In the two previous countries where we released the feature — India and Bangladesh — the use of Anglicized posts was less common.
– From Facebook’s blog on the tool

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