UNESCO, through its Information for All Programme (IFAP) and in collaboration with the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), organized an awareness-raising workshop on Artificial Intelligence on 26 and 27 November 2019, in Libreville, Gabon.
Given the recent expansion of Artificial Intelligence, there is growing demand for a new vision of inclusive knowledge societies that emphasizes the importance of the creation, dissemination, preservation and use of information and knowledge using these emerging technologies.
The remarkable expansion of these technologies is leading to the rise in inventions that were once believed impossible. Computers and robots are now capable of learning, self-improvement and even decision-making – evidently, through an algorithm lacking individual consciousness. Nevertheless, this feat provokes ethical questions. During the two days of the workshop, the participants analyzed the impact of artificial intelligence, as well as the ethical aspects. The discussion concerned issues in UNESCO's fields of competence of education, science, culture and communication, and furthermore, the ethical and global dimensions of peace, cultural diversity, gender equality and sustainability.
The World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) contributed to the debate on the impact of emerging issues, such as artificial intelligence and its relation to the Internet of Things or privacy in the digital age.
This debate prompted Gabon to take part in international discussions on the subject, and participants were able to explore both their confidence and reluctance in reducing the digital divide. “This gap is more prominent in Gabon than in other countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and Rwanda,” stressed Mr. Vincenzo Fazzino, UNESCO Representative in Gabon.
The workshop in Libreville thus allowed participants to learn and strengthen their knowledge on artificial intelligence. Moreover, the participants were able to understand the issues by taking into account the challenges and opportunities offered by AI and to contextualize AI in their country.
At the end of the workshop, the stakeholders committed to promote artificial intelligence throughout the national territory, encourage African regional cooperation, foster an ethical framework and set up a Gabonese Forum of Artificial Intelligence Associations.
In UNESCO's book Steering Artificial Intelligence and Advanced ICT for Knowledge Societies, Artificial Intelligence is assessed within the wider ecosystem of Internet and other advanced ICTs including big data, Internet of Things, blockchains, etc. The publication shows that benefits and challenges – particularly for communications and information – can be usefully analysed in terms of UNESCO’s Internet Universality ROAM principles. These principles urge that digital development be aligned with human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder governance to guide the ensemble of values, norms, policies, regulations, codes and ethics that govern the development and use of Artificial Intelligence.
The Information for All Programme (IFAP) was established in 2001 to provide a platform for international cooperation in the area of access to information and knowledge for the participation of all in knowledge societies. IFAP is a unique intergovernmental programme of UNESCO that aims to ensure that all people have access to information that they can use to improve their lives. The IFAP Bureau is composed of eight Member States appointed by the Governing Council. It meets twice a year to evaluate, select and approve projects as well as to hold thematic debates on issues of importance to the programme.