How Will Artificial Intelligence Impact Rural Areas?Jul 28, 2023
Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the way we live and work. It’s not hard to imagine the possibilities it brings to urban and suburban areas. But what about its impact on rural communities?
AI has the ability to create opportunities for rural communities that were once thought impossible. We can see this in agriculture and healthcare where AI is already being implemented with promising results.
But with any new technology comes concerns, such as job displacement and access to resources. These concerns are significant challenges to the acceptance of AI use in rural communities.
But they are not the only barriers.
Lack of trust in policymakers and the threat to their lifestyle also contribute to the resistance of AI adoption.
It’s important to examine and understand the impact of AI on rural communities if we want to ensure that its benefits are accessible to all.
The digital divide in rural communities
The main challenge facing rural communities is the digital divide.
Many rural areas have limited access to high-speed internet, which can hinder the implementation of AI technologies.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 14.5 million Americans living in rural areas lack access to broadband internet. This lack of access can make it challenging for rural communities to adopt new technologies, including AI.
The digital divide creates disparities in education and economic opportunities. Students in rural areas may not have the same access to online resources and educational opportunities as their urban counterparts, which doesn’t just limit their career prospects.
The lack of reliable internet access also leads to the avoidance of technology use, including AI. Despite the promising benefits, the frustration of slow, interrupted, or no online connection provides little motivation to learn and adopt technology into their daily lives.
The same is true for small businesses, farms, and ranches. These small (often family-owned) businesses in rural areas may struggle to compete with those in urban areas due to a lack of access to digital resources.
Addressing the digital divide in rural communities is the first step to ensuring they are not left behind in the adoption of AI and other emerging technologies.
The potential positive impact of AI on rural communities
If we look beyond the challenge of the digital divide, we can see AI has the potential to positively impact rural communities in numerous ways.
Rural areas often have a strong presence of agriculture. One of the most promising uses of AI is precision agriculture. Precision agriculture uses sensors and data analytics to optimize crop yields and reduce waste.
By using gathered data, farmers can make more informed decisions about irrigation, fertilization, and other inputs.
This can lead to increased productivity, reduced costs, and more sustainable farming and ranching practices.
Another area where AI can make a significant impact is in healthcare. Rural areas frequently face challenges in accessing quality healthcare due to limited resources and healthcare provider shortages.
AI can improve healthcare access and outcomes by enabling telemedicine and remote healthcare services.
Rural residents can connect with healthcare professionals and receive timely medical assessments and advice through the use of AI-powered diagnostic tools, wearable devices, and remote monitoring systems.
Challenges to Implementing AI in rural communities
Despite the potential benefits, there are several challenges to implementing AI in rural communities.
One of the challenges is a lack of infrastructure.
As mentioned earlier, many rural communities in the United States face challenges in terms of internet access and connectivity
A robust internet connection is necessary for AI to function effectively. Yet many rural areas do not have access to high-speed internet.
Remote areas often lack the necessary physical infrastructure, such as roads and power grids, to support new technologies.
Another challenge is the need for funding.
The cost of implementing AI technologies may be higher in rural areas because of the need to develop the necessary infrastructure.
With a smaller population and tax base, government agencies and large corporations lack interest in providing financial support where they are likely to see little profits on their investment.
As a result, rural communities may not have the backing to invest in new technologies limiting their ability to learn about and implement the use of artificial intelligence.
Ethical barriers to the adoption of AI in rural areas
When implementing any new technology, there are ethical considerations to be taken into account which create additional challenges.
This is true whether in a rural or urban setting. Therefore, the ethical barriers are similar.
Yet, for the rural population, the barriers run deep enough to devastate a lifestyle that is already losing its young people, traditions, and personal connections to the work they do, to a world perceived as having a less human connection.
A huge concern is the potential for job displacement.
AI has the potential to automate many tasks currently performed by humans, which will lead to job loss in some industries.
For the rural workforce, this would include industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation, usually the mainstays of the rural economy.
Many times those mundane jobs support a family farm or small business. It is not unusual for a farmer’s wife to work outside the home or the rancher to hold a parttime ‘gig” to cover the high cost of medical insurance, make the payments on constantly rising taxes, and pay for out-of-control fuel expenses.
For details about jobs and population trends check out this report.
Rural America at a Glance: 2022 Edition The 2022 edition of Rural America at a Glance reviews industry shifts and looks at population trends affecting the…
To lessen the potential negative impact of job loss, training programs can help rural residents develop the skills needed to adapt to the changing job market and take advantage of emerging AI-related opportunities.
Addressing this gap will once again require financial investment many rural areas may not be able to manage.
Another ethical concern is data privacy.
AI relies on large amounts of data to function, and there are concerns about how this data is collected and used.
People living in rural areas appreciate their privacy. They are skeptical about sharing personal or business information. The assumption is often made that the information will be used further tax, regulate, or in some other way, manipulate the way they live and do business.
The desire to protect the privacy of individuals, small businesses, and even communities has been and will be a barrier to the adoption of technology and the use of AI in rural areas.
This trust barrier in data collection and use extends to the idea of collaboration with outside agencies.
Private sector companies, government agencies, and community organizations have the ability to develop and implement AI initiatives to meet the unique needs of rural communities.
With access to resources and expertise, they can create effective solutions to the challenges of rural communities.
But the red tape, political agendas, and stipulations which indicate a complete lack of understanding of the rural lifestyle foster extreme caution in the small farmer, rancher, and business owner.
Even though partnerships and collaborations will be critical to the successful implementation of AI in rural communities, the trust barrier will have to be acknowledged and addressed.
Opportunities for economic growth and job creation
Despite the challenges and concerns, AI presents significant opportunities for economic growth and job creation in rural communities.
Implementing AI technologies can create new industries and jobs, particularly in the areas of precision agriculture, healthcare, and transportation.
It can help rural businesses compete with those in urban areas by providing them with new tools and resources.
Individuals in rural communities would have access to job opportunities once limited to urban areas via telecommuting. And by providing tools for online businesses and e-commerce, rural residents can start and grow their own ventures.
Educational outcomes can be enhanced through online learning platforms, intelligent tutoring systems, personalized education, and virtual classrooms.
The future of AI in rural communities
AI does have the potential to create new opportunities for rural communities. However, the challenges and concerns must be addressed.
The impact of AI on rural areas will depend on:
- developing policy initiatives to support rural areas
- funding to address the challenges
- improving infrastructure
- access to resources through training and education
- community engagement
- building trust between collaborating agencies
As we address these challenges, may we also find a way to adopt the benefits of new technologies while sustaining the positives of living a rural lifestyle.
Perhaps this will become the needed invitation for younger people to return home to small towns, farms, and ranches.
Just another reason why it is so important that the benefits of AI are accessible to all and that rural communities are not left behind in the AI economy.
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