Building peace in the minds of men and women

Youth voices and the future of Artificial Intelligence at UNESCO’s General Conference

20 November 2019

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© UNESCO

As part of UNESCO’s commitment to engage youth in decision making for the future they want, UNESCO’s intersectoral AI task team organised a side event on “Youth Voices and the Future of Artificial Intelligence” as part of UNESCO’s 40th General Conference.

The side event brought together high-level representatives, including UNESCO, the OECD, the African Union, ISESCO, the IEEE, and the UN High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation to engage in conversation with youth about the development of ethical principles for artificial intelligence, and what is needed to translate these principles into practice to harness artificial intelligence for sustainable development.

The Assistant Director-General of the Communication and Information sector, Moez Chakchouk, opened the event by reiterating AI’s potential to revolutionise all aspects of our lives, noting that AI’s transformative nature makes it imperative to address the ethical challenges correlated with its development and deployment.

The first panel focused on developing principles for Artificial Intelligence. The panel was moderated by Delfina Belli, a young student, who introduced the topic by raising her concern about gender inequality and bias in AI. In her introduction, she emphasised the importance of creating principles so that AI could be harnessed as a tool to empower women. All speakers concurred on the importance of developing ethical principles for AI, given AI’s potential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the possible challenges it poses in the field of human rights.

Amani Abou-Zeid, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, and Salim M. Al-Malik, Director-General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO), stressed the significance of AI in the African region and reaffirmed the commitment of their Organisations in harnessing AI for Agenda 2063 of the African Union.  Dr. Abou-Zeid underlined that “we want to make sure that we have shared values, that we have shared principles, and that we are working together across the Continent, but also the Continent with the rest of the world.” Director-General Al-Malik further reaffirmed ISESCO’s commitment to adopting ethical frameworks for AI in ISESCO’s Member States.

Delving into specific principles for AI, Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the OECD, and Marc-Antoine Dilhac, Director of the Montreal Declaration for the Responsible Development of AI, both commented on and viewed the proliferation of different ethical principles and frameworks positively. While Gurria noted that the different entities developing AI frameworks could all learn from each other, Dilhac observed that the different frameworks were anchored in distinct fields of competence and therefore complementary and necessary. From the perspective of the technical community, Clara Neppel, Director at the IEEE, underlined that “the engineering community has a responsibility on how we design systems for society.”

All speakers constantly underlined the importance of multi-stakeholderism and inclusion in developing AI and relevant ethical frameworks. Secretary-General Gurria stressed that “multi-stakeholderism is not a way, it is the only way” while Commissioner Abou-Zeid underscored that “there is no way any Organisation can do this on its own.” Reflecting on the need to actively involve civil society in the elaboration of these principles, Dilhac underlined that initiatives could draw from the experience of the elaboration of the Montreal Declaration, which took into account different perspectives by organising in-person workshops and soliciting feedback online.

The second panel, dedicated to moving from AI principles to practice, explored the link between the development of ethical guidelines and policy implementation. Moderated by Imane Bello, a lecturer on the politics and ethics of AI systems, she introduced the topic by highlighting some of the technical limitations of AI which lead to algorithmic bias, misclassification, and even discrimination, particularly between the global north and global south.

Asked what steps needed to be taken to ensure that ethical frameworks have concrete impacts, speakers had various perspectives. Amandeep Singh Gill, Former Executive Director of the Secretariat of the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, stated that “the discovery of principles has to be driven by practice.” He elaborated that most Organisations agreed that AI should be human-centric and fair, but diverged in practice on what measures needed to be taken to achieve this type of AI. Voicing similar sentiments, Nicolas Miailhe, President of the Future Society, emphasised that a continuous feedback loop between principles and practice is necessary. In addition to ensuring feedback loops, Adriana Eufrosina Bora, a young AI policy researcher at Global Data Commons, emphasized the need to invest in capacity building: “It is crucial to empower young people with the right skills that would allow them to face the uncertainties that AI is going to bring to society, and to the labour market” she stressed.

Peter-Paul Verbeek, Chair of UNESCO’s Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), highlighted three aspects which needed to be addressed in translating principles to practice: ensuring that the design of AI is ethical, that end-users of the technology understand it, and that governments ensure frameworks for the use of this technology. Eva-Marie Muller-Stuler, Chief Data Scientist of IBM MEA, followed up by emphasising the importance of involving the private sector in discussions about AI ethics from the beginning, rather than simply developing guidelines and demanding that the industry implement them.

In closing, UNESCO underlined that, in going forward, the Organisation would continue to ensure multi-stakeholder platforms for discussion on the ethical dimensions of AI, develop capacity building tools in this field, and provide standard-setting and policy advice to ensure that artificial intelligence is harnessed for sustainable development. The Internet Universality Framework and R.O.A.M approach, adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2015, was underlined as framework to guide work in the development of an ethical artificial intelligence based on human rights, openness, accessibility, and multi-stakeholderism.

This side event precedes Member States’ consideration, in the framework of the General Conference on November 21, to begin a process to develop a standard-setting instrument in the field of the ethics of artificial intelligence.  More than 280 attendees participated in the side event, with upwards of 10,000 people participating at a distance via UNESCO’s social media channels.

Missed the conversation? See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cq0XAlvDbDM&feature=youtu.be

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).