Global Summit Focuses on the Role of Artificial Intelligence in Advancing SDGs
Photo by IISD | Lynn Wagner
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The summit generated 35 proposals that will use the “power of AI for good” in satellite imagery, healthcare, smart cities and trust in AI, and discussed how AI can help support educational initiatives and improve the lives of youth.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said that leveraging the power of ICTs, including AI, is critical for achieving the SDGs.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained that digital technologies, including AI, will be critical to providing better health and wellbeing for one billion more people.

25 May 2018: The second edition of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Good Global Summit convened under the theme, ‘Accelerating progress towards the SDGs,’ bringing together experts in AI and humanitarian action to advance sustainable development.

The summit, which connected AI innovators with public and private sector decision makers, generated 35 proposals that will use the “power of AI for good.”

Speaking during the summit, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said that leveraging the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs), including AI, is critical for achieving the SDGs. [ITU Press Release on Opening of Summit]

The summit aimed to formulate strategies to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits. Expert “breakthrough” teams convened on satellite imagery, healthcare, smart cities and trust in AI, and proposed AI-driven strategies and supporting projects. Project proposals were evaluated based on feasibility and scalability, potential to address global challenges, degree of supporting advocacy, and applicability to market failures beyond the scope of government and industry. [ITU Press Release Summit’s Generation of 35 AI Project Proposals]

The AI and satellite imagery breakthrough team focused on enhanced monitoring of agriculture and biodiversity using satellite imagery, contributing to SDGs 2 (zero hunger), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and 15 (life on land), among others. The group proposed three projects, which aim to predict and prevent deforestation, track livestock, and provide data analytics for micro-insurance to smallholder farmers. A fourth project provides enabling infrastructure and common capabilities through a “global service platform” to support new satellite data projects to achieve scale. [ITU Press Release on Global Service Platform]

The summit emphasized the need to proactively address challenges and risks, such as technology appropriation and weaponization by rogue actors for self-serving purposes.

The healthcare team proposed projects aimed at improving and expanding healthcare related to, inter alia, primary care, service delivery, integration and analysis of medical data, and responses to disease outbreaks and other medical emergencies (SDG 3 (good health and well-being)). World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained that digital technologies, including AI, will be critical to providing better health and wellbeing for one billion more people, noting that AI is already helping to prevent outbreaks and diagnose treatments. Participants highlighted that AI can power low-cost, easy-to-use technologies to deliver health care to the neediest, particularly in developing countries where physician density is low; focused on scalable technology, for example, skin disease recognition that could be deployed on six billion smartphones by 2021; and emphasized transparency for both doctors and patients, security and privacy. [ITU Press Release on AI Healthcare Projects] [ITU Press Release on Four Ways to Scale Up AI for Health]

The AI and smart cities and communities breakthrough team generated project proposals aimed at, inter alia, supporting linguistic diversity within and enhancing the cultural heritage of cities, combating gender violence and providing “virtual testbeds” for simulating smart city projects. These helped support SDGs 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and 5 (gender equality), among others. Projects also included establishing an ‘Internet of Cities,’ a global network to share data, knowledge and expertise required to replicate successful smart city projects. [ITU Press Release on Cities]

The trust in AI breakthrough team’s proposed projects address: AI stakeholders’ trust in AI developers; trust across national, cultural and organizational boundaries; and trust in AI systems themselves. Other proposals aim to build trust in AI’s contribution to agriculture and mental health by exploring: strategies to maintain social stability in developing countries as AI-driven automation influences labor markets; the ways in which the concept of trust differs across cultures; and how policymakers can encourage the development of trustworthy AI systems and datasets free of bias. These projects will be supported by ‘Trust Factory,’ an incubator for multidisciplinary collaboration to build trust between AI users and developers. SDGs advanced by these projects include Goals 2, 3 and 8 (decent work and economic growth). [ITU Press Release on Building Trust in AI]

Summit participants discussed the benefits of sharing AI tools and resources, datasets, and supporting knowledge and expertise, referred to as ‘AI and Data Commons,’ noting that this can, inter alia, inspire new AI for Good projects. Data Commons would provide assemblies of AI tools and datasets to help scale up quickly and contribute better resources to the AI for Good community. All four breakthrough tracks highlighted the value of common platforms in testing, launching and maximizing the impact of new AI projects, and each proposed projects aimed at developing such common platforms. [ITU Press Release on AI and Data Commons]

Participants also considered how AI can help support educational initiatives and improve the lives of youth, highlighting the need to include young people in AI conversations and empower them to ask the right questions, critically evaluate society and lead into the future (SDGs 4 (quality education), 10 (reduced inequalities), among others). The UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake said that, while 94% of youth in developed countries use the internet, only 67% of youth in developing countries and 30% in least developed countries (LDCs) do so. She said that AI-based education technologies, such as digital tutors, can improve content, reduce costs, enhance educational outcomes and reach more people. [ITU Press Release on Youth]

With regard to the growing AI for Good movement, the summit emphasized the need to proactively address challenges and risks, such as lack of transparency, manipulation of behaviors, job displacement, and technology appropriation and weaponization by rogue actors for self-serving purposes. [ITU Press Release on Future of AI for Good] [Summit Webpage] [ITU Press Release Prior to Opening of Summit]

Organized by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in partnership with more than 30 UN agencies and other organizations, the meeting was held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 15-17 May 2018. ‘AI for Good’ is the main UN platform to harness the benefits of AI.

Partner UN organizers include the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), World Food Programme (WFP), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), International Labour Organization (ILO), UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), UN University (UNU), World Health Organization (WHO), UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), UN Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).


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