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Open Letter to Peru: Control Your AI Future!


I spent a fabulous week in Peru, keynoting the 2024 Data & AI Summit, lecturing at the University of Technology and Engineering (UTEC), and meeting many marvelous folks curious to learn about the role that AI can play in their personal and professional lives.

This journey has motivated me to share my thoughts on what countries like Peru, endowed with abundant natural and human resources, must do to shape their AI destiny. Now is the time for Peru to act and seize control of its AI future. Failure to act promptly may leave it vulnerable to the agendas of large global entities that could define that future without considering Peru’s unique needs. Let’s explore how nations like Peru can craft a future where AI (and data) serves the collective aspirations and respects the rich tapestry of Peru’s cultural heritage.

Perspective #1: AI is a Tool for Creating Value… Train People Accordingly

All tools have the potential to be used for either good or bad, and this is true for AI as well. However, if Peru wants to leverage AI as a tool for social good, it needs to raise awareness and educate its citizens about AI – how it works, the opportunities, and the dangers. This means a concerted effort to educate the public about their role in defining the desired outcomes and the key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that the AI model will use to deliver more relevant, meaningful, responsible, and ethical outcomes.

What measures can Peru take today to ensure the ethical and appropriate use of AI? Peru’s municipalities hold a significant amount of citizen and operational data, creating an ideal situation for an open data initiative. This initiative could be the foundation for a public AI training program to train citizens and students in data and AI’s responsible and ethical use.

There are two crucial things that Peru must do to ensure a responsible open data initiative:

  • Document and share the guidelines, communicate the metrics against which the guidelines will be monitored and provide governance and oversight to ensure the responsible and ethical use of the data.
  • Articulate and prioritize the social problems upon which to focus the Open Data Initiative.

That last point is essential. An Open Data Initiative can derive and drive social good across a wide variety of use cases (Figure 1).


Figure 1: Open Data + AI Social Opportunities

Unfortunately, most open data initiatives don’t fail due to a lack of opportunities; they fail because they pursue too many.  So, invest the time upfront to drive the cross-stakeholder alignment and consensus to identify, validate, value, and prioritize those use cases, then focus Peru’s scarce but growing data and analytics capabilities on those top-priority use cases.

Perspective #2: Focus on Economics, Not Technology

“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”  – Adam Smith (Father of Economics)

While much of the AI focus is on the enabling technologies (transformers, reinforcement learning, deep learning, STLM, LLMs), the rubber meets the road when those technologies are used to drive economic benefits for the Peruvian citizens and constituents. Here are some important economic concepts that should underpin Peru’s AI-driven economic journey:

  • Data Economic Multiplier Effect: This theorem posits that the value of data and analytics compounds as they are reused across different business areas and applications. By implementing a strategic framework for data and analytics, Peru can amplify the impact of its data assets, transforming individual insights into widespread value across various sectors.
  • Appreciating Assets: Digital assets, like data and analytics, appreciate the more that they are shared and used. For Peru, investing in AI and data analytics infrastructures can yield increasing returns over time by as AI systems become more valuable, driving economic growth and innovation.
  • Economies of Learning: The Economies of Learning, coupled with the Law of Compounding, highlights the exponential growth in data and analytics through continuous learning and incremental advancements. For Peru, this means fostering environments where data-driven insights lead to continuous improvements in services, products, and processes, accelerating innovation and economic growth.
  • Nanoeconomics: Nanoeconomics focuses on the predictive propensities of individual entities (humans and devices) to enhance public services, healthcare, education, and commercial activities and enable more efficient resource allocation, better customer experiences, and improved societal outcomes.

Maybe the most relevant economic concept is the Schmarzo Economic Digital Asset Valuation Theorem, which postulates that the value of a digital asset increases the more that it is used to continuously learn and adapt, sometimes with minimal human intervention (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Schmarzo Economic Digital Asset Valuation Theorem

For Peru, this theorem could have several implications:

  • Strategic Investment in Data Infrastructure: Recognizing data as an appreciating asset encourages the government and businesses to invest strategically in data infrastructure, governance, and analytics capabilities.
  • Cross-Sectoral Application of Data: By viewing data as an asset that increases in value through diverse applications, Peru can encourage the sharing and utilization of data across different sectors, such as healthcare, education, and urban planning, which can lead to innovative social solutions.
  • Evidence-Driven Policy Making: By adopting data-driven policy-making, the government can optimize resource allocation, improve public services, and enhance citizen engagement.
  • Empowering SMEs to Think Like a Data Scientist: Small and medium-sized enterprises, usually the last to adopt new technologies, can leverage shared digital assets to gain insights, improve competitiveness, and create new business models.
  • Focus on Ethical Use and Privacy: Peru can lead by example in establishing robust AI data protection laws and ethical guidelines.

Perspective #3: Start AI & Data Literacy Early

Citizens and students must be educated about the potential dangers associated with data and AI. This education must start early, including for grade and middle school students.

As I covered in my book “AI & Data Literacy: Empowering Citizens of Data Science,” these are some of the critical educational actions that Peru can take today in establishing that culture of AI and data literacy:

  • Protect Your Personal Data. Understand how personal data is being collected in everyday life. Your transactional and behavioral data is being captured from smartphones, surveillance cameras, social media, credit card transactions, loyalty programs, video games, and more. And unlike humans, computers can remember everything…forever.
  • Be Aware of AI-based Manipulation.  Understand how their personal data is used to influence and manipulate them.  With access to your deep history of transactional and behavioral data, organizations can leverage AI to uncover predictable behaviors that can influence or manipulate you – what products to buy, what movies to see, where to eat, whom to date, and even for whom to vote.
  • Make Informed Decisions. Understand how to leverage analytics (and basic statistics) to make more informed decisions.  Life is about improving the odds of making better decisions.  A basic understanding of statistics and probabilities will dramatically improve those odds.  For example, wearing a seat belt will double the odds of surviving a car accident, yet only 11% of Americans wear seat belts.
  • Critical Thinking. It is crucial to develop critical thinking skills to understand how information is being presented to us. For instance, every article that appears on our social media feed has been chosen by AI. Therefore, we should ask ourselves two questions: 1) What about our online activities led AI to select that article? and 2) What is the intended action AI hopes we will take after reading the article? By doing so, we can become more aware of how AI influences our online experience.
  • Unleash Your Curiosity and Imagination.  Understand how to unleash natural curiosity and imagination to drive creativity and innovation.  All humans are born with a natural curiosity and imagination; nurture it.  And don’t be afraid to fail because much of learning comes through failure (like riding a bike or hitting that 3-point jumper).

Please check out Angeline Corvaglia’s website for a series of outstanding videos targeting the education and awareness of our youth regarding the opportunities and dangers associated with Big (intrusive) Data and AI.

Perspective #4: Teach Everyone To Think Like a Data Scientist

Data Science is more than math. It is about thoroughly understanding your constituents’ intent and desired outcomes to make evidence-based decisions that deliver more relevant, meaningful, responsible, and ethical outcomes.

Data Science is the discipline of creating value from data, and that means your data scientists need to be able to engage, collaborate, and ideate with the stakeholders to define, derive, and deliver that value. Maximizing the economic potential of data science and AI requires that every citizen is trained in a collaborative methodology that builds upon the institutional knowledge of the citizens and constituents (Figure 3).


Figure 3: The Art of Thinking Like a Data Scientist

The heart of data science is identifying the variables and metrics that might be better predictors of entity behaviors and performance. However, the people who know those variables and metrics tend to work at the front lines of the organization—at the front lines of customer engagement and operational execution.

To maximize the potential and benefits of AI and data science, encourage imagination and exploration at the organization’s front lines through an inclusive, collaborative, exploratory methodology like the “Thinking Like a Data Scientist” methodology.

Perspective #5: Nurture and Unleashing Your Cultural Innovation

I believe that AI will force humans to become more human. But what does that mean?

In our quest for efficiency, we have suppressed some of our natural human qualities by standardizing processes and tasks. However, to prepare for a future of collaboration with AI, humans must focus on their natural abilities, such as curiosity, imagination, and exploration. These unique traits differentiate humans from algorithms and are the source of societal creativity and innovation (Figure 4).


Figure 4: The Path of Cultural Empowerment and Innovation

The renaissance of these human strengths begins with education reform and professional development. Education systems must be restructured to emphasize creative problem-solving over rote learning, encouraging students to be inquisitive and imaginative. Likewise, professional environments should cultivate exploration, ideation, and failure as a means of learning and growing, recognizing them as drivers of innovation and growth.

Summary: Empower Peru’s Strong Individualism

The aspect of Peru that most impressed me was its strong sense of individualism. Everyone has a passion to do right and to have their voices heard. Empower that passion!

  • The first step is to raise country-wide awareness of AI and the need for citizens to protect their data from organizations that seek to manipulate it.
  • Next, ensure that everyone understands their Roles, Responsibilities, and Rights regarding the responsible and ethical use of AI.

Focus on what makes Peru unique. Don’t try to be like everyone else.  Don’t let outside organizations bury what makes Peru and its people distinctive. Preserving Peru’s uniqueness is crucial, distinguishing it from other countries.