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Artificial intelligence is huge. We all know how much of an impact it is going to have on our lives. It will and is already changing everything.

When I read this article, I thought about the statistics that show the decline of rural populations over the past three decades. The labor force is changing significantly as more and more young people leave for urban environments, impacting industries like agriculture, forestry, mining, and energy. To compound that, technology has changed many of these industries’ supply chains.

I was heartened to hear that our great Midwest, our heartland with such amazing people and true American spirit, have an opportunity with AI to help reinvigorate businesses across industries. People are welcoming challenges by leveraging the potential of AI and new technologies to shift business models and processes to keep up with changing times. For example, AI is used by many producers to boost efficiency across the lifecycle of food technology, such as crop and soil health monitoring, weather forecasting, and AI-enabled bots that help control weeds. The outcomes are healthier crops at higher volume and less pesticide use. This is just one example of how AI is supporting some of America’s hardest workers.

As the article points out:

  • Small businesses have already embraced many new technologies and are receptive to the transformation available through AI
  • The key to success is equity — getting technologies, training, and ideas to as many people as possible
  • There is room for progress, growth, and sustainability in rural communities, but that also requires supportive government partnerships with private companies and local business owners
  • Educating and mentoring will help fill in the gaps and foster an innovation mindset

FULL SUMMARY

“When I think about the people that I grew up with, these are some of the most ingenious people that I know. I mean, this community is just full of scrappy people who are using all of the tools that are available to them to make a better future for themselves,” said Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott, about people from his hometown in rural Virginia. “And now, they have this new tool which may be the most powerful tool that we’ve ever built. And it’s so exciting to think about what people will do with these tools who are in different contexts and come at problem-solving from different angles than those of us who are in the technology industry.”

In his new book Reprogramming the American Dream, Scott presents an optimistic way to look at AI, the technology that is revolutionizing the workplace and world. In a tempered argument that differs from the prevailing stories about AI displacing the heartland’s low- and middle-skill workers and the utopian tale of enhanced productivity and convenience for urban knowledge workers, Scott says that AI has the “potential to create abundance and opportunity for everyone and help solve some of our most vexing problems.”

Small businesses in his hometown already have technology in place and are on the cusp of fully taking advantage of AI. “These people, and not the tech leaders and AI researchers, were going to have a better idea of how to use AI for their specific industries and challenges,” Scott said in a separate interview with Bloomberg

Scott’s advocacy of AI as a game-changer is his idea for boosting rural economies to lessen the impact of future disruptions like COVID-19. He wants the government to commit to spending $200 billion on “AI in service of the public good,” as well as figuring out how to provide ongoing education for future workforce development and rural broadband provisions.

The pandemic and the arrival of mainstream innovation offers smaller U.S.-based businesses the opportunity to prove their worth in supply chains that were previously given to overseas firms in China.

Ultimately, however, Scott maintains that while using AI can vastly improve business practices, the technology just can’t replace people in many areas. Like steam engine innovation, it has the potential to be a ubiquitous tool that everybody can have in their arsenal for making things. “My argument – the reason that I wrote the book, the reason that I do the job that I do at Microsoft – is that I think we need to collectively be doing everything in our power to democratize access to these tools, so that my friends and family and the people that I admire in these small communities have just as much access to these tools as I do. Because I have infinite amounts of faith in their ability to go do amazing things once they have access.” Link to Original Article