A robot in Recife, Brazil. (AP)


LatAm in Focus: What AI's "Tectonic Change" Means for Latin America

By Luisa Leme

Ángel Melguizo, economist and UNESCO AI ethics advisor, explains how the region can benefit from the artificial intelligence revolution.

Latin America continues to face a digital divide. Some 40 percent of Latin American homes don’t have fixed broadband internet, and the IDB estimates the region needs $50 billion to close this digital gap. The divide may also contribute to doubts about new technology: more than half of Latin Americans believe that AI will be harmful rather than a help. 

Ángel Melguizo
Ángel Melguizo

So how can the region benefit from the AI revolution without leaving people behind? For Ángel Melguizo, a Latin America advisor to UNESCO on AI, roughly a third of Latin Americans “don't have the connectivity or the skills to take advantage of AI, and they should be also the focus.” Melguizo, who is also a partner at green technology and economic consulting firm Argia, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme about the “tectonic change” that comes with AI, the challenges at hand, and how it could even help pave the way to more inclusive policies.

Already, 45 percent of businesses in Latin America were using the technology as of 2022. In the case of one tool everybody’s been talking about—ChatGPT—some 300 million users are based in the region. Melguizo argues that addressing the gap and building on the opportunities should coincide. “It's not ‘first connect Latin America and then invest in AI.’ We have to do it now—both of them,” he says.

“AI is a digital revolution that Latin America cannot miss.”

Melguizo also pointed out that AI represents a big opportunity for governments to be more efficient and make cities more livable. In Latin America, “maybe that’s transportation time,” says the Bogotá-based economist, stressing that countries need to invest in skills to make the public sector more inclusive, particularly in sectors such as health and education. It can also help smaller economies with lower tax revenues that “can’t afford to make mistakes” more efficiently distribute public resources.

Melguizo identifies policies such as managing data to avoid biases and respecting large international agreements that prohibit social scoring to ensure AI doesn’t tamper with Latin America’s democracies. And he says a “coalition of the good” should bring together the government, private sector, and multilateral institutions for ethical AI use under human control. “The reason for hope—for why I hope a dystopian future doesn’t materialize—is because we make sure that we work together and join forces.”

Latin America in Focus Podcast

Subscribe to Latin America in Focus, AS/COA's podcast focusing on the latest trends in politics, economics, and culture throughout the Americas.

This episode was produced by Executive Producer Luisa Leme. Carin Zissis is the host. 

The music in this episode is "Thakita” by Ganesh Anandan, performed by Alejandro Escuer and Felipe Perez Santiago for Americas Society.   

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