On 29 March 2021, Borut Pahor, President of the Republic of Slovenia, and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, inaugurated the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI), as a Category 2 centre under the auspices of UNESCO in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The Director-General of UNESCO called for countries, organizations and individuals to combine their energy and propose solutions so that artificial intelligence (AI) be used for the common good of humanity. The first of its kind, IRCAI will advance research on the use of AI for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The launch of the center brought together policy makers, researchers, representatives of the private sector, civil society organizations and the public to engage with ethical, human rights, and development issues related to the design, development and deployment of AI. Over two days of discussion, IRCAI and its network of partners set the agenda for AI-related research, policy advice, capacity building and financing activities that the center will pursue.
The core research functions of the Centre will be guided by its four international scientific committees on:
- AI and Climate that will address the issue of water quality measurement;
- AI and Education that will focus on AI algorithms that can make Open Educational Resources more accessible and easier to use;
- AI and Assistive Technologies that will highlight the potential of using AI technologies to assist persons with disabilities; and
- AI and Healthcare that will focus on the use of AI in vaccine development processes.
To facilitate the exchange of ideas on AI and SDGs, UNESCO and IRCAI will launch an interdisciplinary and open access International Journal of Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development.
The scientific community at IRCAI will work with the global AI policy community to ensure evidence-based AI policy making that is informed by innovative developments in AI research. As part of the discussions on AI policy and capacity development in Africa, Olalekan Akinsande, Chief Technical Lead at Data Science Nigeria and Jade Abbott from Retro Rabbit and Masakhane, underlined the lack of adequate ICT infrastructure as a challenge for Africa to fully use the potential of AI.
In this vein, UNESCO presented the findings of the Artificial Intelligence Needs Assessment Survey in Africa that highlights the policy and capacity building needs of 32 countries in Africa. These needs range from capacity building for judicial operators to address legal implications of AI to the need for greater support for AI education and training at universities in Africa.
The Centre will also be spotlighting 100 AI projects from around the world that will be eligible for innovative financing through Social Impact Bonds. As a tangible example of one such project that is using AI to strengthen access to information, Kathleen Siminyu, Regional Coordinator, AI4D Africa, discussed how UNESCO and IRCAI are supporting the Masakhane research consortium is developing datasets in low resource African languages to crack the language barrier in the development of local AI-based innovations.
The ethical and responsible development and use of AI are an important focus of UNESCO’s work on AI. IRCAI has actively supported consultations for the upcoming UNESCO Recommendation on the Ethics of AI and has supported an analysis of responsible AI in sub-Saharan Africa. Underlining the need for translating principles to action, Renée Cummings, Criminologist and AI Ethicist, stressed the importance of involving local communities, including through enhanced funding, in the development of innovative and efficient AI solutions, reducing the gap between learning and applying.
IRCAI reflects UNESCO’s commitment to leveraging global expertise and knowledge in its endeavor to foster greater international cooperation and building inclusive knowledge societies.