future famines using technology. The coalition - which includes the World Bank, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon - said Sunday it is launching a tool called the "Famine Action Mechanism," a still-evolving algo- rithm that will use analytics to identify areas that are most likely to experience extreme food short- ages. Modeling such probabilities using AI, officials involved in the effort say, could help international organizations with one of the their biggest challenges when it comes to avoiding famine: securing the release of funding to at-risk areas before it's too late. The United Nations says a region reaches the conditions known as famine when daily hunger-related death rate exceeds 2 per 10,000 people. This year, An estimated 124 million people in 51 countries are facing severe food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme. World Bank officials said the idea for FAM arose last year, when they met with their counter- parts in the United Nations to evaluate their response to a recent food crisis in Somalia. Though they had responded to the crisis quickly, they said, they decided to develop an early-warn- ing system to secure funding as quickly as possible. This bureau- cratic string-pulling, which is high- ly depending upon accurately forecasting a potential crisis, is often the final hurdle to saving lives, experts say. Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said AI could play a sig- nificant role in changing that. "If we can better predict when and where future famines will occur, we can save lives by responding earlier and more effec- tively," Smith said. "Artificial intelli- gence and machine learning hold huge promise for forecasting and detecting early signs of food shortages, like crop failures, droughts, natural disasters, and conflicts." Ed Hsu, senior adviser to the president of the World Bank, said international leaders decided to enlist the help of technologists because of their unique ability to take existing challenges and look at them in new ways. As advance- ments in connectivity unleash powerful streams of new data, he said, officials wondered how that information might be used to ana- lyze food crises. "Can we use new information from satellite imagery or social media to analyze this problem of famine and look at it in a new way?" Hsu said. "That's why we thought to ask the top artificial intelligence experts in the world to support us in our efforts." Famine prediction is already something of a science. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network -- a USAID program started in 1985 -- keeps an updat- ed list of global areas of highest concern, factoring in variables as diverse as rainfall totals and agri- cultural prices to terrorism and upcoming political elections. And yet, forecasters say, there has never been a "qualitative modeling process," a mathemati- cal formula that would help experts "calculate" food security, according to the Atlantic. They also lack the ability to evaluate hunger levels in a given location in real time, forcing an organization such as FEWS NET to gather much of its data in person through the relentless efforts of hundreds of employees. The Famine Action Mechanism -- which launches next month in a small number of countries -- will attempt to digitize those decisions using a suite of analytical models known as "Artemis," World Bank officials said. The models will cre- ate alerts that "trigger pre- arranged funding and action plans by donors, humanitarian agencies and governments to generate ear- lier and more efficient interven- tions," the World Bank said in a statement. World Bank officials said it will take time to tailor the models, which will rely on machine learn- ing, to different regions around the world, each of which has unique vulnerabilities to famine. They claim early interventions reduce humanitarian costs by as much as 30 percent. "The fact that millions of people - many of them children - still suf- fer from severe malnutrition and famine in the 21st century is a global tragedy," World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement. "We are forming an unprecedented global coalition to say, 'no more.' The Famine Action Mechanism is a preventive approach that knits together inno- vative technology, early financing, and strong partnerships on the ground in an effort to prevent famine." Peter Holley The Washington Post 33 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW OCTOBER-DECEMBER 2018