Building peace in the minds of men and women

WSIS Forum 2019 Concludes with UNESCO Highlighting the contribution of Artificial Intelligence to Sustainable Development

25 April 2019

As the UN agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression and promote the free flow of ideas by word and image, UNESCO works to create inclusive knowledge societies and empower local communities by increasing access to and preservation and sharing of information and knowledge in all of UNESCO’s domains of action. ICTs play a crucial role in this work.

From April 8-12  in Geneva, Switzerland, UNESCO co-hosted the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) forum, the world's largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community, around the theme “Information and Communication Technologies for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.” The forum provided an opportunity for information exchange, knowledge creation and sharing of best practices, while identifying emerging trends and fostering partnerships. This year’s gathering, which was the 10th anniversary of the Forum, ensured a global multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines for advancing sustainable development. 

UNESCO at the WSIS Forum 2019

As the main organizing partner of WSIS in partnership with the ITU, UNESCO is the facilitator for 6 action lines of the WSIS implementation process, and brought together stakeholders in the framework of 2 high-level dialogues and 4 action line sessions at the forum. 

In the opening ceremony of the Forum, Dr. Abdulaziz Almuzani, Director of UNESCO’s Geneva Liaison Office emphasized that “in taking this combined WSIS-SDG operational framework forward, UNESCO’s position is clear – universal access to information and knowledge and freedom of expression are the foundations for inclusive and sustainable development. In empowering every woman and man, they are, fundamentally, forces for dialogue, mutual understanding, and lasting peace.”

Access to Scientific Information: Are We Ready for the Global South and SDGs?

This workshop, hosted by UNESCO on April 8, discussed measures to foster cost effective mechanisms for sharing, accessing and utilizing scientific scholarship. The session provided an opportunity to discuss recent initiatives and underline good practices to support Open Access and Open Science activities in the global south. In this regard, coordinators of six platforms joined forces to improve the democratization of scientific knowledge through a multicultural, multithematic, and multilingual approach and launched the Global Alliance of Open Scholarly Communication Platforms (GLOALL). The GLOALL will support free circulation of knowledge to allow citizens to address local, regional, and global challenges by ensuring access to open access publications. “This alliance will help democratise and improve access to scientific knowledge and thereby strengthen efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. All stakeholders have to come together, leverage their mutual strengths, and drive this alliance forward” underlined Bhanu Neupane from UNESCO.

Open Solutions for Digital Skills Development

Artificial Intelligence (AI), and frontier technologies such as Blockchain and Learning Analytics have immense potential to meet the five strategic challenges to mainstream OER as outlined in the Ljubljana OER Action Plan and Draft OER Recommendation. This workshop, hosted by UNESCO on April 8, examined how AI and frontier technologies can revolutionize OER to ensure the maximum impact for the creation of inclusive Knowledge Societies. The workshop provided an opportunity to revisit the five strategic challenges of OER and restate UNESCO and its partners’ combined commitment to leverage the power of frontier technologies and AI in order to build on existing opportunities and address challenges. The session also provided an opportunity to review progress made to generate a set of indicators to assess OER uptake.

Culture for a Sustainable Digital Environment

UNESCO has long advocated and demonstrated that culture, in its diverse manifestations is a driver and enabler of sustainable development. This session, hosted by UNESCO on April 8, highlighted how 3-D scanning methods are supporting the rehabilitation of destroyed cultural heritage in post conflict situations, as well as how ICTs can foster cultural entrepreneurship in the cultural and creative industries, notably in developing countries. “AI and ICTs in the culture sector are bringing creative and economic opportunities but as they develop we must have government support, guidelines and clear answers on artist remuneration and copyright” underlined Toussaint Tiendrebeogo on behalf of UNESCO. 

This workshop highlighted how initiatives in digitization of cultural content and heritage help protect culture, make it more widely accessible, and preserve it for future generations. The workshop also underlined how these initiatives can allow marginalized groups to be engaged, share knowledge, and foster social cohesion while positioning local communities as producers and not only consumers of AI and ICTs.

Harnessing Artificial Intelligence to Strengthen Journalism and Media Development in Line with UNESCO’s Internet Universality ROAM Principles

UNESCO’s Internet Universality R.O.A.M principles and indicators framework, which advocate for human rights, openness, accessibility and multi-stakeholder participation, also inform the Organization’s view of the ethical development of advanced ICTs including Artificial Intelligence. This workshop, hosted by UNESCO on April 11, ensured multi-stakeholder discussion on the crucial challenges of guiding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a conducive manner to strengthen the role of journalism and media development in line with UNESCO’s Internet Universality ROAM principles. In this framework, UNESCO presented the major outcomes from it policy report “Steering AI for Knowledge Societies: A ROAM Perspective,” which sheds light on the human rights implications and opportunities and challenges for journalism and media that advanced ICTs are bringing, under the prism of the ROAM framework. “The press cannot be free if journalists and their sources are under surveillance all the time,” said Ms. Elodie Vialle from Rapporteurs Sans Frontières. She highlighted that AI and the massive collection of data have an important consequence in the right to privacy of all individuals including journalists. 

The Ethical Dimensions of Artificial Intelligence

If we are to make the most of the possibilities offered by AI to the world, we must ensure that it serves humanity, with respect for human rights and human dignity. Today, no global ethical framework or principles for AI developments and applications exist. UNESCO is a unique universal forum with over twenty years of experience in developing international instruments related to the ethics of science and technology, notably through its Intergovernmental Information for All Programme and its World Commission on Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, known as COMEST. This high-level dialogue, hosted by UNESCO on April 10, looked at the ethical dimensions of Artificial Intelligence that can contribute towards sustainable development, but also posed questions related to the use of this emerging technology and the respect of universal ethical principles and fundamental human rights. 

This high level dialogue also presented findings from the COMEST preliminary report on ethical issues related to AI. In the framework of UNESCO’s work as facilitator for action line C10 (Ethical Dimensions of the Information Society) of the WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) process and follow up and its work on information ethics as part of IFAP (Information for All Programme), UNESCO led a multi-stakeholder debate with high level panellists from International Organizations, civil society, and the private sector.  Emphasizing the importance of this multi-stakeholder approach, Amandeep Singh Gill, Executive Director of the Secretariat of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation emphasized that “in the development of an ethical AI, we must ensure investment for good, inclusive incubation to scale solutions that work.  We can ensure good governance of AI through ecosystems of shared practice.”

ICT4ALL: Indigenous Languages Matter for Peace, Innovation, and Development

Indigenous languages are imbued with invaluable potential and universal knowledge that can be unlocked in order to contribute to development and innovation in domains such as education, science and research, culture, policy, industry and environment. This High Level Dialogue, hosted by UNESCO on April 10, provided space for open consultations and encouraged discourse on a shift of paradigm on the important role that indigenous languages could play towards sustainable development if ICTs are made accessible, inclusive and affordable for all, including indigenous language users. The high-level dialogue built on the outcomes of the recently held consultations that proclaimed 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and explored ways in which the recommendations on usage of inclusive and accessible ICTs by indigenous language users in all societal domains could be incorporated and mainstreamed within the WSIS framework. “We are trying to develop a momentum among all indigenous people in the world to urge major tech companies to assume their responsibilities,” underlined Eirik Larsen, political advisor and representative of the Sami Parliament of Norway and panellist in the session: “It is our hope that governments will commit themselves to improve the situation for indigenous language users, by implementing legislations that secure and  support the digital inclusion of minority and indigenous languages.”

UNESCO at the WSIS Forum 2020

In closing the WSIS Forum 2019, Dr Abdulaziz Almuzani, Director of UNESCO’s Geneva Liaison Office emphasized UNESCO’s continued commitment to mainstream the potential of ICTs for sustainable development in its programmatic areas. “Following fruitful exchanges during this Forum, UNESCO calls on governments and partners present today at this Forum to continue to leverage the power of Information and Communication Technologies to help achieve the sustainable development goals and promote the free flow of ideas by word and image” Almuzani reiterated. The WSIS Forum 2020 will be held from 30 March to 3 April 2020.