Artificial Intelligence for Information Accessibility - AI4IA

09 - Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Saving Lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope

The context of high uncertainty in the face of COVID-19 has created, more than ever, the need for certainty and trust in information.  

Under the theme “Saving Lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope”, the International Day for Universal Access to Information, IDUAI 2020, commemorated by UNESCO on September 28, focused on the right to information in times of crisis and on the advantages of having constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information to save lives, build trust and help the formulation of sustainable policies through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

In observance of the IDUAI 2020, the UNESCO Information For All Programme (IFAP) Working Group on Information Accessibility (WGIA), hosted a global online event on Inclusive Artificial Intelligence with topics addressing information accessibility. This event provided a platform for open discourse involving participants from academia, civil society, private sector and government.

The one-day online conference was organized in collaboration with the Kule Institute for Advanced Studies (KIAS) at the University of Alberta, Canada, and the International Centre for Information Ethics (ICIE). It was organized under the auspices of the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean, Kingston, Jamaica and the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa, Harare, Zimbabwe.

The conference on September 28, 9 am (GMT -5) was opened with remarks from the Directors of the institutions under auspices including ​Saadia Sanchez, Director and Representative of the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean, Kingston; Hubert Gijzen, Director of the UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office for Southern Africa, Harare, Dorothy Gordon, Chair of the UNESCO Information For All Programme (IFAP), Ghana and Jandhyala Prabhakar Rao, Director, India Centre of Excellence in Information Ethics (ICEIE), School of Humanities, University of Hyderabad, India. 

Among the speakers of the conference were Edson Prestes, Head of the Robotics Research Group, Informatics Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil​, Wendell Wallach, Yale University Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics; The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, USA, Cordell Green, Vice-Char of the UNESCO IFAP Working Group on Information Accessibility, Jamaica, and Isabela Ferrari, Brazilian Federal Judge, The Future Society Advisor, Brazil.

Access to Information has emerged as one of the most critical aspects to ensure healthy behaviors and save lives, while it strongly claims for fairness, accountability and transparency.

Saadia Sanchez, Director of the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean

In her opening remarks, Saadia Sanchez, Director of the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean pointed out the ambiguity of Artificial Intelligence: it enables the acceleration of sustainable development for the benefit of people and planet, but, at the same time, if no ethic consensus is being agreed upon, can pose a threat to Human Rights, such as to information privacy.

AI could be employed to make quality health services more accessible, enhance agricultural productivity, while also contributing to understanding climate change, reducing marine pollution, and contributing to large-scaled action aimed at preserving the environment. On the other hand, increased use of AI systems and technology may cause a disruptive effect to the Caribbean labor market, with automation impacting employment.

The conference topics discussed the most controversial issues around the ethics of AI in relation to information. The first thematic session provided the background discussion on the title of the event: Artificial Intelligence for Information Accessibility. The second thematic session focused on how education can benefit from AI. Facebook's Head of Accessibility, Mike Shebanek, explained the AI function of video and photo captions of billions of visual contents to make it easier to describe content and thus make it more accessible to people living with disabilities.

Furthermore, the possible impact of Artificial Intelligence on Human Rights, justice and inclusive development was discussed in the follow-up session.

The danger of mis- and disinformation

Especially in times of crisis, such as the global corona crisis, mis/dis/mal-information can pose a danger. The thematic session on Mis/Dis/Mal-information and AI for both a tool and a remedy discussed the possibilities of AI to prevent misinformation, but also the risk of spreading it.

The emphasis of the discussion was on guarantees and the exercise of communication rights, access to quality, verifiable and reliable information provided by mass and social media based upon a sense of ethical responsibility and processed by consumers of information with critical thinking skills to distinguish and discern between true and false information.

The last thematic session of the day focused on health rights and access to information - a reflection on the COVID-19 crisis. The sessions during the day raised crucial questions that call into question the future progress of AI. In order to harness artificial intelligence for human benefit, be it in data protection, access to information, education, health or human rights, an ethical framework, such as the draft recommendation on the ethics of artificial intelligence developed by UNESCO, must be taken into account by all concerned.

UNESCO advocates for a humanistic and value-based approach to Artificial Intelligence. That there is an urgent need for ensuring fairness, inclusiveness, transparency and accountability on the workings of algorithms and their use of data. AI should not generate more distance, inequalities and disparities between countries and among different society groups.