Artificial intelligence in the charities of the future

AI is coming. 

The experts estimate a true artificial intelligence will be created between 2040 and 2075.

We’re not talking about machine learning algorithms that can write short stories that are indistinguishable from those written by humans. We’re talking about actual artificial intelligence that will be able to reason and make decisions of its own volition without being asked to.

The military will probably get it first.They always have the coolest toys first and have the fattest wallet. They’ll be quickly followed by large corporations and very quickly followed by every other type of organisation. That’s how technology adoption and diffusion goes, and AI will be the mother of all general purpose technologies, which will ensure its adoption is fast and total. If you think electricity (the last big general purpose technology to be invented) changed the world, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

And in amongst all those other organisations racing to leverage the benefits AI will bring their businesses will also be charities.

The first charities to use artificial intelligence will probably start with AI-HR and AI-Finance because those will be mass-market systems that every organisation needs and so the market will be flooded with functional AI tools that can support departments to meet the business needs.

Then marketing and content production will be taken over by AI systems that can quickly create a huge number of variations of promotional materials and learn very quickly which work for achieving the AI’s aims.

Fundraising, support services, service delivery, strategy all will be affected by AI technologies and over time replace human teams that have no chance of competing.

There’ll be the first ‘AI-first’ charities, just as we have charities talking about being ‘digital-first’ now. 

Of course those people in the charities that are making the decisions to adopt AI technologies wont be experts in AI, anymore than the people who adopt today’s IT systems know how they work. These will be people with experience in dealing with human motivations and technology that doesn’t answer back. How will they motivate artificial intelligence to make good decisions?

Until it’s the AI making the decisions about what it will do. And we have the first ‘AI-only’ charities. With the click of a button the AI will set-up an ‘AI-Org’ (and yes, there will be a legal organisational type for AI companies by then), decide what cause it wants to contribute towards to help the puny humans, develop a business model, decide it doesn’t need to hire any humans to do its work, and set about making the world a better place.

AI will be everywhere. It will be in everything.

I’m sure the few people that read this will be thinking, “I’ve got more immediate things to worry about than some possible future that won’t happen until after I’m dead.”, and that’s a completely reasonable thought. I think about solutions in increasing orders of magnitude, so we should be implementing solutions on a 1 – 2 year time scale, investigating solutions for in 10 – 20 years, and imagining solutions for in 100 – 200 years time. 

AI, and its effect on the charity sector is in the ‘imagining solutions’ time frame. Charities definitely have enough problems to be working on over the next 1 – 2 years (pandemics, economic collapse, institutional racism, etc.), and even enough problems to be investigating for the 10 – 20 year time frame (the ongoing digitalisation of society, climate change, etc.) but just as our charities of today have been shaped by the decisions of those from the 18th, 19th and 20th century, we shouldn’t under-estimate how our decisions today will affect how the charities of the future respond to artificial intelligence.