UNESCO and VIVA Tech launch a call for AI-based solutions that benefit people and the planet

UNESCO has joined forces with VivaTech to host a startup challenge on AI for human rights. Until 30 April, startups can share their solutions on how to harness AI to tackle challenges related to biodiversity, gender equality and language barriers. Selected finalists will reflect UNESCO’s commitment to ensure access to information and harness new technologies to improve people’s lives and tackle sustainable development challenges.
In the field of Artificial Intelligence, UNESCO plays a lead role at the international level as co-champion of recommendation 3C of the Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation dedicated to AI.  With the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, currently in development, UNESCO will further contribute to protect and promote human rights and human dignity in the entire AI lifecycle through policy recommendations and programmatic support.

VivaTech is Europe’s biggest startup and tech event. Co-organized by Publicis Groupe and Groupe Les Echos and dedicated to the growth of startups, digital transformation, and innovation, the 5th edition will take place from 16-19 June 2021. In 2019, the event reached 231 million people worldwide, bringing together 124,000 visitors including more than 13,000 startups, 3,000 venture capital firms, and 2,500 journalists from 124 countries. This year, VivaTech will provide a hybrid experience, in-person in Paris and online worldwide, that will bring together an even larger community of innovators.

UNESCO and VivaTech launched three challenges until the end of April and ask startups to share their ideas on how to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Challenge 1: Conserving our Biodiversity. Help us harness AI to preserve our Planet
To accelerate the transition towards living in harmony with nature, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and the long-term goals of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, digital technologies and AI must be harnessed to address the nature and biodiversity crisis. Technology can help in ensuring the preservation of biodiversity central to healthy ecosystems. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone the spotlight on the interdependencies between humans and other species. It has reminded us that, when we destroy primary forests or indulge in wildlife trade, we are increasing our own vulnerability. High biodiversity manages to buffer some of the negative effects of infectious diseases. As we lose biodiversity, we are losing alternative hosts for vectors of disease to infect, making it more likely that pathogens will infect humans. UNESCO is looking for innovative solutions to help manage ecosystems, restore natural habitats, and monitor biodiversity – to help us preserve our planet, and the health of its people.

Challenge 2: Gender bias and discrimination. Help to reduce the gender digital divide by exposing bias in AI
There’s an urgent need for more women to participate in and lead the design, development, and deployment of AI systems. Evidence shows that by 2022, 85% of AI projects will deliver erroneous outcomes due to bias if AI as a technology and as a sector is not more inclusive and diverse. UNESCO’s seminal report from 2019 showed that AI-powered voice assistant tools like Alexa and Siri were perpetuating harmful stereotypes and sexist abuse directed at ‘feminized’ technology was even anticipated by tech companies. How can we ensure women’s participation in the design of AI? How can we make sure data sets are more diverse? UNESCO is looking for innovative gamified solutions to educate and inform women and men on the gender bias in AI systems with the ultimate goal to raise awareness on the gender digital divide. Examples of expected startup solutions include a gender equality learning app (EdTech), Gender analysis tools and algorithmic bias assessments, and gender equality investment tools.

Challenge 3: Cracking the Language Barrier through Data and AI. Help us strengthen access to information in low resource languages
Languages, with their complex implications for identity, cultural diversity, spirituality, communication, social integration, education and development, are of crucial importance for people, prosperity and the planet. People not only embed in languages their history, traditions, memory, traditional knowledge, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression, but more importantly they also construct their future through them. In this context, UNESCO is looking for Language Technology-based solutions that contribute to the promotion of linguistic diversity and multilingualism. This may include solutions like spelling/grammar checkers up to speech and speaker recognition, machine translation for text and audio, speech synthesis, and spoken dialogue among others are important tools for enabling linguistic diversity and multilingualism. The Los Pinos Declaration on the Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032) calls for the design and access to sustainable, accessible, workable and affordable language technologies and places indigenous peoples at the centre of its recommendations under the slogan “Nothing for us without us.”


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