The draft text of the UNESCO Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence discussed at the Arab regional level

Within the framework of the elaboration of a global UNESCO Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Egypt in collaboration with UNESCO hosted an Arab regional multi-stakeholder consultation on the draft text of the recommendation. The consultation was held virtually on 10 and 11 August 2020, and brought together more than 30 experts from across the Arab region, representing different disciplines.

In his opening statement, Minister Amr Talaat said that Egypt has taken great steps towards implementing its national strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI). Talaat also highlighted that the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has started an ambitious AI awareness-raising program targeting different segments of society, adding that a comprehensive program will be launched to develop the capacities of all civil servants about AI uses. Furthermore, the Minister commended UNESCO’s efforts in seeking common ground between various stakeholders to agree on the ethical principles of AI. He noted that the science and cultural organisation had done so by involving all the regions on an equal footing in the deliberations, and by forming an international team of experts.

In her introductory remarks, Ms. Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, underlined the importance of the Recommendation. She noted that the values and policies that are being defined would be the global compass needed as a common framework to ensure that the rule of law is respected in a digital world.

“Artificial Intelligence technologies are shaping our life, the way we interact, speak and act. In addition, they have helped to track and curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the importance of their impact and the fast pace in which they develop, it is of paramount importance to make sure that the downsides and potential harms to human rights, fundamental freedoms, and universal ethical principles, are addressed”, she stressed.

In his intervention, Dr. Ghaith Fariz, Director of the Regional Bureau for Sciences in the Arab States, stressed the even bigger importance of the Recommendation for the Arab region, in light of the digital and technological gap separating some Arab countries from the world. He stressed the regional need for an ethical framework that guides AI in the right direction as a fundamental factor and driver of sustainable human development in its broader and comprehensive concept.

“Support for sciences in general, and AI in particular, is at the heart of the mandate of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Sciences in the Arab States. We see great potential in AI, as it offers Arab countries the chance to leapfrog and achieve scientific and knowledge advancements”, he continued. He referred to the complementarity between the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI and the Charter of Ethics of Science and Technology in the Arab Region, which was coordinated by his office and was adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States at the Summit Level as a guidance document.

Earlier in July, recognizing that young people are among the chief users, developers and those to be impacted by AI technology, UNESCO Cairo cooperated with Beirut and Rabat Offices in organizing a series of three online consultation sessions targeting Arab youth aged 15 to 24 years old. The consultations were held virtually on 7-8-9 July 2020 in three languages Arabic, English and French and were attended by more than 60 young participants. The consultations aimed to include young voices in the global dialogue on the ethics of AI by providing them with a platform to express their views and opinions on the draft recommendation. Moreover, UNESCO Cairo supported the dissemination of the online public consultation on the recommendation among its wide-range multi stakeholders network in the Arab region.

The above-mentioned efforts allowed UNESCO to gather a diversity of perspectives from the Arab region, which will be taken into account by the Ad Hoc Expert Group on the Recommendation when revising the draft text in August/September 2020. It is expected that the final draft will be submitted to UNESCO’s Member States for adoption during the General Conference in 2021.