Tremendous potential of Artificial Intelligence beyond economic growth, says UNESCO in UN Brief interview

“UNESCO sees tremendous potential of Artificial Intelligence beyond economic growth. More than just a tool, artificial intelligence also grants opportunities for global progress and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information in a video interview for the UN Brief.

In particular, in alignment with UNESCO priority Africa, AI can be a catalyst for change and a force for social and economic development, impacting both strategy setting and policy making. Speaking with Maya Plentz, Dr Jelassi highlighted the findings of the AI Capacity Building Needs Assessment Survey in Africa, conducted in 2021 with 32 African countries.

The three priorities that emerged are leveraging AI for economic growth and digital transformation, upgrading education skills and facilitating AI-based research and development, he said. Respondent countries had asked for support in setting up the legal and regulatory framework on AI governance, and building the capacity of government personnel and civil servants who may not be equipped to deal with groundbreaking technology.

There were also needs that emerged specific to the context of Africa, Dr. Jelassi added. For example, in Bostwana, AI could be used to reduce the cost of mining, a major economic activity, while in Egypt, one of the focus areas is  AI and disaster-risk reduction.

In addressing the needs laid out in the survey, as well as another survey of over 1,200 judicial operators, he announced that UNESCO is offering an online training in AI and the Rule of Law.

Adding to UNESCO’s track record of having trained 23,000 judicial operators in 150 member states, this new course created in collaboration with, The Future Society, IEEE and National Judicial College, will address how judiciaries can use AI to strengthen access to justice and improve internal processes, while also addressing the risks of bias, discrimination and legal challenges that AI systems pose.

The course, which opens for registration in November 2021, will feature Supreme court judges, legal experts and technology experts. “It’s truly a multi-stakeholder approach in terms of content and exchange of knowledge across different justice systems from all over the world,” Dr. Jelassi said.

In this interview, he also gave an overview of UNESCO’s upcoming agenda, including the Recommendation on Ethics of AI. “This is the only global standard setting instrument on AI ever developed,” he said, emphasising that it reflects a common understanding of AI for humanity for all 193 member states involved in the negotiations. The Recommendation is set to be adopted at the 41st General Conference in November 2021.