AI has the potential to accelerate the achievement of sustainable development goals, but also contribute towards new challenges that we must anticipate. Aggressive deployment of AI is raising many ethical questions across the globe as its configuration rapidly transforms various spheres of human agency.
This underlines the importance of a human-centred approach, to maximize benefits and counter challenges, and the significance of plans to create an International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI), as a UNESCO Category 2 centre in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The Agreement was signed on distance by Slovenia’s Minister of Education, Science and Sport and Deputy Prime Minister Dr Jernej Pikalo and UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Mr. Moez Chakchouk as the representative of the Director- General on 5 March 2020.
During the ceremony, Mr Pikalo expressed his confidence in the Government’s partnership with UNESCO and noted, “This agreement between UNESCO and the Government of Slovenia illustrates a strong foundation for the future activities of IRCAI and represents a direct response to the challenges many member states are faced with in view of emerging AI technologies”.
For his part, Mr Chakchouk thanked the Government of Slovenia and the Deputy Prime Minister and noted that “AI can help to pave the way for new opportunities for sustainable development and help in constructing knowledge societies. This Centre represents a shared vision by the Government of Slovenia and UNESCO to better understand AI’s role for humanity”.
The establishment of IRCAI was debated during UNESCO’s Executive Board at its 206th session and was subsequently approved during the 40th session of the UNESCO General Conference. This validated the proposal and authorized the Director-General to sign an agreement between UNESCO and the Government of Slovenia concerning the establishment and operation of the Centre.
The Centre will not only maximize the benefits of AI to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, but also expedite a multi-stakeholder mechanism to put AI under the litmus test of ethical, legal, openness and policy challenges. The Centre will also add a unique focus and further expertise on UNESCO’s AI programmes. In particular, it will leverage the power and capability of AI across various areas of competence of UNESCO by generating relevant statistics on AI, AI-related applications and associated technological innovations.
The creation of the Centre also takes place against the backdrop of a recently-launched UNESCO publication “Steering AI and Advanced ICTs for Knowledge Societies”. This publication highlights some of the challenges and opportunities of AI from a human rights, openness, inclusive access and multistakeholder perspective. It advocates for steering clear of both technological utopianism, and dystopian thinking, while giving attention to the role of human agency and human-centred values in the development of AI.
Category 2 centres under the auspices of UNESCO are established and funded by Member States to contribute to the achievement of UNESCO’s objectives. Though not legally part of the Organization, these Centres are associated with UNESCO through formal arrangements approved by the General Conference.