UNESCO promotes a human-rights based approach to AI development during the Regional Forum on AI in Latin America and the Caribbean


“In order to harness the opportunities of Artificial Intelligence for sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, the technology must develop with respect to universally recognized human rights and values” underlined Moez Chakchouk, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at UNESCO, during the opening ceremony of the Regional Forum on AI in Latin America and the Caribbean in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from 12-13 December 2019.

This Forum was jointly organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Brazilian Network Information Center (NIC.br) through its Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society (Cetic.br), and the Brazilian Government, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE) and the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications (MCTIC).  The Forum received further institutional support and partnership from IBM, Microsoft, Brasscom, Observacom, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC).

The overall purpose of the Regional Forum was to raise awareness and promote reflection on the opportunities and challenges that AI and its correlated technologies pose to societies, governments, organizations and citizens. The conference also explored the potential of AI in relation to the SDGs, particularly as regards the role of UNESCO in enhancing evolutions in the fields where the Organisation operates within the wider UN and societal ecosystem in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Furthermore, the forum encouraged regional cooperation and reflection on the need to develop international standards in the field of the ethics of artificial intelligence, following the decision of UNESCO’s Member States at its General Conference in November 2019 to embark on a two year process to elaborate a standard-setting instrument in the field of the ethics of AI.

In recent years, several countries in Latin America have been designing public policies and establishing national artificial intelligence strategies to drive the development and adoption of AI systems. During the Regional Forum, the Government of Brazil launched a public consultation to engage citizens in the elaboration of the Brazilian AI Strategy. 

In this framework, several countries during the Forum underlined that for the socioeconomic development of the region, the design of public policies fostering investments in AI, the development of partnerships with leading private sector companies, academia and global partners, and the development of skills among the workforce and students in the field of AI are crucial initiatives that must be undertaken by all stakeholders. Equally important, many panelists underlined, is the establishment of a proper normative framework that can support the development of ethical, transparent and accountable AI- based applications.

Over two days, the Forum brought together more than 580 key stakeholders from Latin America and the Caribbean from the public and private sector, technical community, media and academia, civil society and international organizations to facilitate dialogue between stakeholder groups on the potential benefits and challenges of AI and its development. The forum also provided a unique opportunity to learn from the experience of countries that have successfully established national AI strategies in and outside of the region, and reinforce regional cooperation and partnership in this Field.

Three main recommendations returned time and again throughout the Forum.

First, in co-designing the future of AI principles and AI governance, an omni-stakeholder approach must be adopted, ensuring that the voice of all stakeholders and citizens is at the heart of our participatory and deliberative public policy processes. This approach is important for both the international level in the domain of UNESCO’s work to develop a standard-setting instrument in the field of the ethics of AI, but also at the regional and national levels in the development of policies and programmes that address the use of AI more broadly. 

Stakeholders must, in this regard, adopt a GLOCAL approach – both global and local, emphasizing the need to ensure not only a top-down, but also bottom up approach and relevant feedback loops to ensure AI policies and frameworks are grounded in local contexts and use-cases. 

UNESCO’s AI Civic Forum, in partnership with the Future Society, MILA, and the University of Montreal, is a concrete example of the Organization’s commitment to this approach, and Moez Chakchouk, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, invited all stakeholders from Latin America and the Caribbean to actively participate in these civic forums.

Secondly, in the elaboration of these policies, stakeholders must adopt a human-rights based approach, reflecting also the commitment of UNESCO’s internet universality framework and ROAM principles that advocates that all policies related to digital transformation must be human rights-based, open, accessible, and multi-stakeholder shaped.

Third, and lastly, stakeholders must ensure investment in capacity-development. Stakeholders must ensure capacity-building in the field of AI literacy, and digital literacy and media and information literacy more broadly, so that citizens – youth, women, and marginalized groups but also decision and public policy makers - are empowered with the necessary tools to not only understand and be informed consumers about AI-based solutions, but become creators of these solutions themselves.

This Forum inscribes itself as part of a series of regional UNESCO events on Artificial Intelligence and follows the Global conference "Principles for Artificial Intelligence: Towards a Humanistic Approach?" that took place on 4 March 2019 in Paris, France, the "International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education" that took place 16- 18 May 2019 in Beijing, China, and the Forum on Artificial Intelligence in Africa that took place 12-13 December 2018 in Benguérir, Morocco.

The Regional Forum was also one of the activities organized by UNESCO to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its presence in Latin America and the Caribbean and its oldest office in the region, the UNESCO Montevideo Office.

Building on the findings of this LAC event and adding a specific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) perspective, the Caribbean countries will benefit from the next IFAP organized AI event, to take place from 17-18 February in Jamaica.

Missed the conversation? See it here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLQq8-9yVHyOa8vVdk3MpnVk8AJDyhD7Ia

Information about UNESCO’s work on human centered AI is available at https://en.unesco.org/artificial-intelligence

For more information, please contact Sasha Rubel (s.rubel@unesco.org)