UNESCO Conference on Artificial Intelligence urges human-centred governance of AI

Under the theme “Ensuring AI as a Common Good to Transform Education”, the 2021 International Forum on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Education convened policy-makers and practitioners from around the world on 7 and 8 December 2021. The goal was to share knowledge on how governance can be aligned to direct AI towards the common good for education and humanity, and how countries are leveraging AI to deliver the unfulfilled promises and enable the futures of learning.

The Forum was co-organized by UNESCO and China with the support of the Inter-UN-Agency Working Group on Artificial Intelligence. It convened approximately 74 speakers including 17 Ministers or Vice Ministers, from UN agencies, international organizations and more than 40 countries around the world. During the two-day event, the Forum attracted more than 9,000 real-time participants and viewers from more than 100 countries.

RELATED UNESCO Member States Adopt First Ever Global Agreement On Ethics Of Artificial Intelligence

H.E. Mr Jinpeng Huai, China’s Minister of Education, highlighted the importance of AI in education during the Opening Session: “I’m convinced that through our efforts, AI may empower education, transform education and innovate education, which will undoubtedly create a better future for all.” The UNESCO Assistant Director General (ADG) for Education Stefania Giannini further reinforced this point by stating: “Following the adoption of standard-setting instruments (Recommendation on Ethics of AI), we now have to focus on action and implementation. National regulations on data privacy protection must be developed to implement the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI … But regulations on their own are insufficient to ensure AI as a common good for education and for humanity. All citizens need to be equipped with some level of competency with regard to AI. This includes the knowledge, understanding, skills and values to be “AI literate” – this has become a basic grammar of our century.”

The first session featured the launch of the UNESCO publication AI and Education: Guidance for policy-makers, which introduces the essentials of AI in education and presents how best to leverage the opportunities and address the risks brought by AI. The launch of the publication was accompanied by a discussion on global governance and national policies on AI in education during a high-level panel with Ministers, Vice-Ministers, or designated representatives of Cambodia, China, Egypt, Pakistan, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Serbia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Session 2 focused on ensuring AI as a common good for achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. Various AI and education actors shared their experiences on the best practices and effective use of trusted AI tools for education. UNESCO officially launched its report on the mapping of AI curricula during this session, which was supported by H.E. Mr Branko Ružić, Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Science and Technological Development. “I am both happy and proud to state that the study done by UNESCO on governmental AI curricula is proving our collective commitment and confirming our results in the field of AI. As stated in the survey, 14 AI curricula were endorsed and mandated for use in schools by governmental agencies in 11 countries while seven curricula are still in development in five countries,” said H.E. the Minister.

At the end of the session, UNESCO announced the launch of the UNESCO-Kids Code Jeunesse Partnership on Data and Algorithm Literacy Initiative to get youth using AI and data to achieve the SDGs , as well as promote data and algorithm literacy through advocacy activities and provision of training resources, accessible through digital platforms.

Day 2 of the Forum began with a session covering mining data to enhance education management and learning assessment. The UNESCO ADG for Social and Human Sciences Gabriela Ramos introduced the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI by indicating: “We are proud to share with you that UNESCO’s 193 Member States approved the first ever international standard on the ethics of AI to ensure that these technologies contribute to human progress and not the other way around.” She went on to say: “The main message of the Recommendation is not to introduce at all cost any technology in the classroom, but to do it in a way that it fully contributes to our goals of full respect of human rights, of inclusion and on diversity.” The speakers also focused on assessing the limitation in using data and AI to support learning assessment and ethical issues relating to the use of data and AI tools. Gabriela Ramos reminded UNESCO’s position: “The gathering of data should be done with clear knowledge and consent of data subjects, no matter their age.”

AI as a common good for Africa, gender equality and marginalized groups

The focus then shifted to directing AI innovations at inclusion, equity and gender equality in education during Session 4. A broad range of AI solution providers presented their initiatives ranging from an AI powered virtual tutor to the application of a VR tool to prevent violence. However, there are still many challenges to overcome as Steve Vosloo, UNICEF Digital Policy Specialist, mentioned: “Girls are behind in digital literacy and even more so in AI literacy. The World Economic Forum tells us that only a quarter of all AI professionals globally are women.” To leverage the potential of AI, speakers in the session covered several actions that are needed such as increase diversity and representation in leadership positions within the technology sector; amplify the visibility of girls in AI through mentors and role models; and encourage girls and young people’s participation in AI solutions and policies, and address stereotypes.

Session 5 was dedicated to promoting the use of AI in Africa by building the multi-layer and multi-disciplinary basis needed by African countries to maximize the potential of AI innovations. H.E. Ms Mariatou Koné, Minister of National Education and Literacy of Côte d’Ivoire, indicated that there is still much work to be done: “Cote d’Ivoire has embarked on the digital transformation of its educational system to create a solid foundation for the development and use of AI. However, we have to set for a clear vision of the policies when it comes to education and AI.”

As underlined by the various speakers throughout the Forum and summarized in the Closing Session, we must not lose sight of the ethics, as AI can – if we are not careful – exacerbate rather than improve social and geographical divides, embed inequities, and perpetuate digital inequality. There is the need to promote fairness, privacy and security, and inclusivity and transparency. UNESCO will continue to encourage international and multilateral dialogue to promote an inclusive and ethical use of AI and new technologies in education, and provide instruments and guidance to support Member States in implementing those principles.

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