Following Microsoft’s definition, “Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer system to deal with ambiguity, by making predictions using previously gathered data and learning from errors in those predictions to generate newer, more accurate predictions about how to behave in the future.” We are living in one of those moments when a technology shift marks the beginning of a historic change in how people interact with the world and with each other and, in this case, with computers. Today, AI models can write the first draft of an email, suggest the menu for a dinner, recommend a series and create pictures based on given descriptions in plain language, among infinite other tasks and new developments that are available daily.
Revolutionary digital developments like Artificial Intelligence pose the risk of, once again, leaving behind those individuals who are the most vulnerable. In this sense, digital inclusion is a synonym for social inclusion: those who can most benefit from digitalisation tend to be the least likely to be online. Individuals with no to low basic digital skills simply cannot participate, access and benefit from AI technologies, as they tend to lack the skills, resources, connectivity, knowledge and confidence to do so. As long as AI developments outpace the acquisition of basic digital skills among certain populations, it can exacerbate existing inequalities and further widen the digital divide. As AI and automation technologies become more frequent in workspaces, basic digital skills are increasingly becoming a prerequisite for many jobs, excluding these groups from new job opportunities. Additionally, basic skills such as critical thinking are crucial for identifying misinformation and manipulation in the digital landscape. Without these skills, individuals are more susceptible to not recognising misinformation, which poses a high risk when imagining malicious uses of AI technologies. In this sense, basic digital skills empower individuals not only to navigate the Internet freely but also to do so while being safe and confident.
To mitigate these risks, we must prioritise digital inclusion throughout this AI Revolution. This way, not only can we navigate through these risks but also use AI to bridge the digital skills gap. By addressing the potential impact of AI development on different groups of individuals and considering their singularities, its benefits will be more inclusive and equitable.
AI technologies are shaping the development, application, and utilisation of digital skills in various domains. Currently, around 54% of the EU population has overall basic digital skills, while the European Commission has set as a digital target that this percentage should rise to at least 80% by 2030. We see AI as a contributing factor to reaching this target: for example, it can bring exponential benefits when applied to basic digital skills training through scaling up training and reaching more individuals. Here are some potential solutions that AI can contribute to help bridge the digital divide:
- AI technologies can be used to create digital tools and applications that are more accessible to individuals with limited digital skills or disabilities, adapting the learning experience. For instance, voice-activated virtual assistants and chatbots can provide user-friendly interfaces for people with lower literacy levels, making it easier for them to navigate and use digital technologies.
- AI-based language translation tools can facilitate training and communication across language barriers, transforming program effectiveness. This can help improve digital inclusion for diverse populations, especially those who speak minority languages.
- AI-powered educational platforms can provide personalised learning experiences tailored to each individual’s pace and learning style. This can help individuals with varying levels of digital skills to acquire and improve their digital literacy: through interactive tutorials, simulations and assessments, their learning experience can be more engaging and accessible. Additionally, these platforms can potentially reach more individuals, proposing a large-scale training model.
- AI technologies can also be used to develop innovative solutions to extend Internet access to underserved or remote areas. For example, AI-powered satellite technologies can provide Internet connectivity to remote regions or developing countries.