The future of philanthropy: technology as a transformative power for social good

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In the past few years, internet philanthropy has prevailed all over the world. Online platforms have achieved great success by shifting elite-centric donations to a model allowing everyone to participate in philanthropic activities. The idea of “philanthropy by all” is booming in China. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Tencent provided QQ accounts to facilitate medical assistance to Xiaotangshan Hospital, which was the first time in China that social media had been used for a charitable cause. During the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008, one prominent way people made donations was through online platforms such as Weibo, blogs, and web portals (Chen, 2021).

The phenomenon of online donations is now global. In the US, ever since the internet-based model emerged, charitable organizations have diversified the ways people can donate, with money now accepted through independent formation platforms, crowdfunding websites, and blockchain-based philanthropic platforms (Chen, 2021). In the UK, online fundraising has strengthened the cooperation between online platforms and charity websites, and the government has responded with policies for those platforms. Well-known sites such as JustGiving, Everyclick, and Global Giving UK have developed both desktop and mobile versions for donations. As a result, pulic participation has increased due to the coveniance of being able to donate online. Indeed, there has been a 10 to 20 percent increase since the establishment of the websites (Chen, 2021).

Beyond the technological force, artificial intelligence (AI) represents a step forward benefiting the entire field of philanthropy.

According to the 2021 Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning, and Data Science technology (AIMS) Philanthropy project, the application of AIMS technology represents a paradigm shift. Specifically, there is evidence for its impact in three domains. Firstly, increasing amounts of philanthropic resources are invested in AIMS technology. Secondly, automation, data mining, predictive analytics, and impact insights from AIMS technology are changing philanthropic mission delivery. Also, the workforce needs for AIMS skills are altering the future characteristic of the traditional working environment and working schedule in the field of philanthropy (Herzog et. al, 2021).

This trend can be exemplified by the Google AI For Social Good program. Google AI takes the initiative of “targeting social impacts with the objective of applying AI to address some of the world’s biggest societal challenges”. Some of their projects include humanitarian and environmental, public health, nature and society, climate and energy, accessibility, and crisis response challenges. Project Relate, for example, intends to provide a communication tool for people with speech impairments, “the development of a completely new TalkBack, Android’s built-in screen reader, and the improvement of Select-to-Speak, a Chromebook tool that lets disabled people hear selected text on a screen spoken out loud” (Andersson, 2022). Project Euphonia is another Google-initiated project in partnership with community organizations and people with speech impairments to establish more inclusive speech recognition models. So far, it is able to recognize English, French, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish.

The Tencent AI lab, on the other hand, has organized the Autonomous Greenhouse International Challenge and invited computer scientists and horticultural experts to form multidisciplinary teams to “use autonomous AI-driven methods of greenhouse production and compare results with the experts who applied their own extensive knowledge and deep experience to the challenge” (Tencent Team, 2022). The decision-making power and automatic greenhouse control shown by AI led to a successful reduction of 16 percent in resource consumption and a 121 percent increase in net profits in cultivated products. “AI for FEW (food, energy, water)” is a Tencent initiative to build a more sustainable world for people who lack resources and also for the good of the planet.

Rather than concentrating on a single field like traditional elite-centric philanthropic activity, the application of AI in philanthropy is proposing an alternative paradigm that provides a more diversified and sustainable solution to social problems.

However, despite the prospect of integrating AI for social good, it is undeniable that ethical principles have always been the top concern. Besides the lack of legal commitments for the related ethical issues, the problem of how to ensure that technology companies are not using AI for their own financial interests is another aspect that needs to be considered.

To tackle the problem scholars have proposed the Windfall Clause, an “ex-ante commitment by AI firms to donate a significant amount of any eventual extremely large profits” (O’Keefe, 2020). The “windfall” refers to the profits that a firm cannot earn without accomplishing transformative achievements in AI capacities. On the other hand, “ex-ante” means that we seek to “have the Windfall Clause in effect before any individual AI firm has a serious prospect of earning such extremely large profits” (O’Keefe, 2020).

The Windfall Clause particularly focuses on advancing public policy objectives for the development of AI. For example, it can alleviate income inequality and unemployment. The automation aspect of AI would possibly result in job displacement and lower wages, contributing to increasing income disparity. In this sense, the Windfall Clause acts as a “safety net” because it advocates the distribution of funds for prosocial activities generated by the AI-replaced work. Therefore, the benefits coming from AI will not flow to the corporations, but to everyone (O’Keefe, 2020).

Internet philanthropy has brought huge benefits in terms of changing the traditional paradigm of donation. But the future rests on the shoulders of the AIMS industry, specifically AI. By combining the Windfall clause with the philanthropic activities led by AI, we can strike a balance between the ethics vs. AI battle by redistributing power between corporations and people. It is true that the paradigm of AI-directed philanthropy is still an immature field. However, it is also unquestionable that AI has been bringing new blood to the conventional philanthropic ecosystem, and has been a transformative power for social good.



Chen, Y., 2021. Internet Philanthropy in China. Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore.

Naik, H., & Khan, H. 2021. AIMS Philanthropy Project: Studying AI, Machine Learning & Data Science Technology for Good.

O’Keefe, C., 2020. The Windfall Clause: Distributing the Benefits of AI for the Common Good, New York, NY, USA.

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