Cutting through the unknowns of AI

By Warda Imran, Veronica Sirianni

Amid the farmer’s strike in Berlin which held multiple vessels of public transport hostage, the United Nations’ convened the second day of its Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

To define internet governance has been harrowing; it involves philosophy, ethics, and morals. However, Sasha Rubel of UNESCO, was easily able to condense it in two words: “Collective Intelligence.” Simple yet elegant.

Rubel is a programme specialist in the knowledge societies division of UNESCO and was present at an open forum that particularly demanded attention and features multiple diverse voices. The forum focuses on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the transformation of society. The theme of governance, the magic and mayhem of the digital age and what it implies remains the central topic of the conference.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres were trying to bring the lofty concepts down to earth – and gave their opinion on the matter. “It took five centuries since Gutenberg’s invention to benefit half of humanity, but it has taken just 25 years for the internet to reach half of the globe,” he said.

Merkel took the stage and warned of the negative consequences of censorships and internet shutdowns in different parts of the world. “Attacks on internet connectivity has become a dangerous political tool,” she said, adding that everyone must unite to protect “the core of the internet as a public good.”

Guterres underlined the unparalleled speed at which technological developments are taking place nowadays.

Tackling the multifaceted burning question of AI, the floor opened for experts and civil society members to offer their rather important two cents on the topic featuring diverse voices.

“Responsibility of AI systems must reside with the institutions that are the actual stakeholders,” Mina Hanna, co-chair of the IEEE policy committee on AI said. The conversation included many perspectives, but there seemed to be a murmur of agreement on this.

UNESCO’s Sasha Rubel said that AI policy has a direct impact on changing the way we live, work and study, adding that it influences all aspects of life.

Microsoft’s Director of Technology Policy Carol N’Guyen stressed the need for radical transformation to include women’s presence in AI related fields. The gender gap exists significantly outside the AI realm as well.

Almost 3.6 billion people still live without affordable access to the internet, and the world’s 47 least developed countries where the net could have truly had a transformative impact, 80% of the population remains offline, an alarming statistic shared by Guterres. “Only 2% of women in Latin America and the Caribbean and in East Asia and Pacific own mobile phones with internet.

”The forum discussed the potential future of AI in designing policy frameworks which can be adopted based on the OECD’s recommendations in true UN fashion. Perhaps the only flaw of the AI forum was its lack of audience engagement due to a time shortage because of the friendly Berliner farmers.

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