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AI can empower the poor: IIT Madras researchers

AI can empower the poor: IIT Madras researchers

  • 26th Mar 2024
  • Financial Express

They have proposed an AI-based solution for digital financial inclusion of migrant workers

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) have proposed that augmenting an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant to existing ATMs installed in banks and post offices can help in the financial inclusion of deprived communities, especially migrant workers.They said such an intervention is necessary as the country's internal migrant workers - whose vulnerabilities became apparent during Covid-19 - constitute 3% of the population.

"The lockdown brought to the fore the digital divide, which led to financial exclusion of migrant workers. Due to the staggered movement of people from cities to villages during the lockdown, households of migrant workers suffered as they did not have money even to buy the essentials," the researchers said. "In general, millions of migrant workers living in cities are excluded from public amenities such as civil supplies, vehicle licences, banking, healthcare, insurance, education, and housing."

To understand the digital financial inclusion problem of migrant workers and to explore how AI can solve this problem, a study was carried out by Pavan Ravishankar, Prof B Ravindran and Prof P Sudarsan from the Robert Bosch Centre for Data Science and AI (RBCDSAI), IIT Madras. Prof Ravindran, head, RBCDSAI, said that an AI-enabled interface for digital money transactions offers a host of benefits. "People without smartphone access can enter AI-assisted ATMs and make financial transactions," he said. "Augmenting AI in public institutions can instil trust in digital transactions. The use of voice biometrics and voice passwords can ensure security, ultimately empowering marginalised communities."

He added that during Covid-19 lockdowns the preferred mode of money transfer for migrant workers was hawala couriers, friends and relatives, and most struggled to transfer money and receive financial aid. "Close to 60% of migrant workers could not receive emergency financial aid, and 31% did not receive rations," he said.

Prof Sudarsan, faculty member, RBCDSAI, added that the lack of access to technology and services was a major hindrance during Covid-19. "Of all the migrant workers who owned a mobile phone, only 28% had a smartphone, and 71% had a feature phone," he said. "Using voice biometrics and voice passwords can relax the need for an Aadhaar card or ATM cards for using digital services. An AI-enabled digital financial interface will make marginalised communities independent."

They have proposed that an AI assistant fitted to existing ATMs installed in banks and post offices will help in financial inclusion of deprived communities. "Conversational AI that converses in the vernacular language can ease the use of operations for workers. The AI assistant can ask the user the amount to be transferred and to whom and other necessary details in their vernacular language to carry out the money transfer process," they said.

These findings have been published in the peer-reviewed 'Journal of Information Technology Case and Application Research'.