Multi-stakeholder experts’ discussions triggered in China on Internet Universality Indicators and AI development

On December 10th, Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) and UNESCO jointly organized a seminar to present Internet Universality Indicators project and discuss how the ROAM principles (Rights, Openness, Access and Multi-stakeholder) and related indicators could help inform China’s Internet and AI development.
Participants expressed their appreciation of UNESCO’s endeavor of developing 303 Internet Universality Indicators which is deemed as a holistic, humanistic and internationally recognized framework and relevant to inform the rapid development of Internet and AI in the country. Experts also suggested UNESCO update the indicators on regular basis given the fast development of Internet ecosystem and the diversity of the Internet development at national levels, such as in China.

Topics discussed ranged broadly from the question of online local languages and multilingualism, access for people with disabilities, gender equality online, governance, voice recognition and the ethics of AI. Issues such as combatting fake restaurant reviews online were also discussed. An expert pointed out that the gender-related indicators are particularly useful for policy-makers to consider the advancement of equality in the digital age. More than 30 multi-stakeholder participants were convened.

Represented companies and technical actors included Sina WRD Big Data, Tencent Research Institute, Matrix Partners, Pinduoduo, ICANN Beijing, Kds, iFLYTEK, Dazhongdianping, Whales Capital, ELE’me and Geleishake. Many university partners also attended, from SISU, Shanghai Open University, China University of Posts and Telecommunications, Communication University of China, Beijing Normal University, China Women University, Fudan University, Beijing Normal University. Media organizations were present as well: People’s Daily Online, Shanghai Daily.

The 4-hour-long event opened up new prospects for the use of IUIs in China and for future cooperation between UNESCO and SISU, as commended by Professor Guo Ke, the dean of School of Journalism and Communication of SISU. He informed that the Internet Universality indicators publication in Chinese had been made available online back in September 2019.

The Director of the UNESCO Office in Beijing, Marielza Oliveira, welcomed the participants and pointed out the significance of IUIs in promoting a rights-based approach in the digital age, most particularly on Human Rights Day, which commemorates the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. She also shared on UNESCO Beijing Office’s ongoing work to advance the right of people with disabilities in China to enjoy an accessible Internet.

Qingyi Zeng, from UNESCO Office in Beijing, shared the ongoing initiative to work with Chinese companies on countering gender-based discrimination in AI-related applications.

UNESCO’s Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, echoed participants’ sharing of China’s practice in applying Internet and AI and highlighted the pertinence of the Internet Universality framework to benefit further and sustainable development in the country.

Xianhong Hu, the UNESCO project focal point, informed that a dozen countries have engaged in implementing the Internet Universality Indicators, generating substantial impact to help improve the Internet policies at national level, particularly through strengthening the multi-stakeholder approach for decision making in Internet policy that the Indicators seek to advance. The first assessment report is currently being published by UNESCO, with Brazil as the country of study.

The topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was also broadly discussed, as Xianhong Hu presented UNESCO’s newly-launched publication, Steering AI and Advanced ICTs for Knowledge Societies: A ROAM Perspective, which questions AI’s societal implications from the perspective of Rights, Openness, Access, Multi-stakeholder participation and recommends the application of Internet Universality Indicators at national level, in order to research, map and improve the ecosystem in which AI is developed, applied and governed.

The study was commended as a timely contribution to the discussion on AI development in the country. The publication will be translated to Chinese by SISU in 2020.

Xianhong Hu also gave a speech on Internet Universality indicators and AI development in global era as invited by Fudan University National Center for Cultural Innovation Research, on 12 December 2019.