Artificial Intelligence

The Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) is a subsidiary of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It was established to advise the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on science and technology issues through analysis and appropriate policy recommendations. It is the focal point of the UN for science, technology, and innovation for development.

Under the mandate given by ECOSOC, the CSTD leads the follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and advises ECOSOC accordingly, including through the elaboration of recommendations aimed at furthering the implementation of the WSIS outcomes. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is responsible for the servicing of the CSTD.

Digital activities

The CSTD reviews progress made in the implementation of and follow up to the WSIS outcomes at regional and international levels. It also discusses science, technology, and innovation (STI), including frontier technologies, many of which are digital technologies and are largely linked with digitalisation. Based on thematic reviews and discussions, the CSTD prepares draft resolutions for ECOSOC. These draft resolutions tackle issues ranging from access to the internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs) and frontier technologies to the use of these technologies in achieving sustainable development. Sustainable development is linked particularly to the 2030 Agenda and the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), including topics in recent years related to climate action (SDG 13), clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), Industry 4.0 (under SDG 9), and partnerships (SDG 17). Digital technologies play a role in all SDGs. At each of its annual sessions and intersessional panels, the CSTD addresses two priority themes regarding the use of STI, including digital technologies, in different areas related to the various SDGs.

Digital policy issues

Artificial intelligence 1Within the work of the CSTD, AI is placed under the term ‘frontier technologies’, which also includes big data analytics, biotech and genome editing, and IoT, https://unctad.org/en/Pages/CSTD/CSTDAbout.aspx

As part of its work on assessing the impact of technological change on inclusive and sustainable development, the CSTD is also exploring the role of frontier technologies including artificial intelligence (AI). At its 22nd session, the CSTD pointed out that AI and other frontier technologies offer significant opportunities to accelerate progress in achieving the SDGs, while also posing new challenges (e.g. disrupting labour markets, exacerbating or creating new inequalities, and raising ethical questions). The CSTD focused its 2019–2020 intersessional work on digital frontier technologies, such as AI, big data, and robotics. For 2021, the CSTD chose another digital technology – blockchain for sustainable development – as a priority theme. In 2022, the CSTD deliberated on industry 4.0 technologies (such as AI, big data, IoT, and robotics) for inclusive development. For 2023, the themes were using STI solutions, especially digital technologies to achieve SDG 6 on water and sanitation, and technology and innovation for cleaner and more productive and competitive production (including digital Industry 4 technologies). The most recent themes, for 2024, are Data for Development and Global cooperation in STI for development (which includes cooperation on digital infrastructure and digital technologies).

Access 2In the CSTD’s work, disparities related to access to the internet are referred to as the ‘digital divide’.

During its annual sessions and intersessional panels, as well as in its draft resolutions for ECOSOC, the CSTD tackles aspects related to the digital divide, and outlines the need for further progress in addressing the impediments that developing countries face in accessing new technologies. It often underlines the need for coordinated efforts among all stakeholders to bridge the digital divide in its various dimensions: access to infrastructure, affordability, quality of access, digital skills, gender gap, and others. To this aim, the CSTD recommends policies and actions to improve connectivity and access to infrastructure, affordability, multilingualism and cultural preservation, digital skills and digital literacy, capacity development, and appropriate financing mechanisms. There is an annual follow-up to the progress made on WSIS implementation, which is a critical international process for evaluating progress in overcoming the digital divide in internet access within and across countries. There is also a 20-year review of WSIS that is now beginning, called WSIS+20, which will be held in 2025 in the General Assembly. The CSTD has been undertaking a series of global and regional open consultations  to gather inputs from multistakeholders for its report on WSIS+20 to be submitted, through ECOSOC, to the General Assembly in 2025. 

Sustainable development

As the UN focal point for STIfor development, the CSTD analyses the impact of digital technologies on sustainable development (assessing opportunities, risks, and challenges), including from the perspective of the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’. The CSTD also works to identify strategies, policies, and actions to foster the use of technology to empower people and ensure inclusiveness and equality. In addition, it acts as a forum for strategic planning, the sharing of good practices, and providing foresight about emerging and disruptive technologies. 

Capacity development

Capacity development is one of the recurring themes that appear in draft resolutions prepared by the CSTD on the implementation of and follow-up to the WSIS outcomes. The CSTD often emphasises the need for countries and other stakeholders to focus on capacity development policies and actions to further enhance the role of the internet as a catalyst for growth and development. Strengthening the capacity of stakeholders to participate in internet governance processes is another objective the CSTD has been calling for, especially in regard to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). 

Interdisciplinary approaches: Internet governance

The CSTD was mandated to review the IGF process and suggest improvements. To this aim, the Working Group on Improvements to the IGF was established and a report recommending a number of action items regarding the IGF was delivered in 2012. The CSTD was also entrusted with the mandate to initiate discussions about enhanced cooperation in internet governance. It convened two working groups on enhanced cooperation (2013–2014 and 2016–2018); although consensus seemed to emerge on some issues, a divergence of views persisted on others and the Working Group could not reach consensus on recommendations on how to further implement enhanced cooperation as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda.

UNCTAD is in charge of servicing the CSTD. As such, digital tools used by UNCTAD, for example, platform for online meetings, and social media for communications purposes are also employed for CSTD-related purposes. For instance, the 23rd and 24th CSTD annual sessions as well as the intersessional panel of the 24th CSTD were purely virtual, using the Interprefy platform. The intersessional panel and the annual session of the 25th CSTD were hybrid, combining online and in-person participation. The online platforms used were Interprefy and Zoom, respectively.

Digital tools

UNCTAD is in charge of servicing the CSTD. As such, digital tools used by UNCTAD (e.g. platform for online meetings, social media for communications purposes) are also employed for CSTD-related purposes. For example, the 23rd and 24th CSTD annual sessions as well as the intersessional panel of the 24th CSTD were purely virtual, using the Interprefy platform. The intersessional panel and the annual session of the 25th CSTD were hybrid, combining online and in-person participation. The online platforms used were Interprefy and Zoom, respectively. CSTD meetings have returned to a more conventional in-person format, but digital platforms remain widely in use for the work of the CSTD.

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AI Chess Cup: Evolution of Chess with AI

In 1997, a historic moment occurred in chess when Garry Kasparov competed against the Deep Blue AI for the first time. Two decades later, in 2017, DeepMind achieved a similar milestone by creating an AI that defeated the world champion in the Chinese game Go. Today, Chess.com, the leading chess platform worldwide, celebrates this transformative journey by hosting the AI Cup. This prestigious tournament showcases the significant impact of AI on the game of chess.

 Chess, Game, Adult, Male, Man, Person, Accessories, Formal Wear, Tie, People
Garry Kaparov vs Deep Blue AI

Scheduled from September 25th to 29th, the AI Cup serves as the thrilling final knockout stage of the esteemed $2 million Champions Chess Tour. Bringing together 56 of the world’s top players, who have earned their spots through a Play-In event, the tournament will feature three divisions competing in the highly anticipated AI Cup knockout stage.

 Trophy, Animal, Bird, Penguin, Festival, Hanukkah Menorah
AI Chess Cup: Evolution of Chess with AI 4

The AI Cup stands as a cornerstone of the 2023 Champions Chess Tour (CCT), hailed as the year’s most significant online chess event. Comprising six events throughout the year, the CCT culminates in live, in-person finals. With a formidable lineup of the world’s top chess players and a substantial prize fund of $2,000,000, the CCT represents Chess.com’s most prestigious event to date.

In essence, the AI Cup provides an exceptional platform to celebrate the remarkable advancements of AI in the world of chess, underscoring its ongoing evolution and profound influence on the game in the digital age.

Why does it matter

These developments showcase the incredible progress AI has made over the years. From the iconic chess match in 1997 to the cutting-edge advancements in Go-playing AI, they highlight AI’s potential to transcend human capabilities in complex tasks. This matters because it signifies the evolution of AI in the realm of games and its potential to tackle significant real-world challenges. Whether optimizing energy consumption or discovering revolutionary materials, AI’s ability to learn and improve autonomously, as demonstrated by AlphaGo Zero, holds great promise for addressing some of humanity’s most pressing issues. These advancements remind us that AI is a transformative force that can push the boundaries of what we thought was possible in leisure activities like chess and critical domains with far-reaching implications for our future.

UN Secretary-General issues policy brief for Global Digital Compact

As part of the process towards developing a Global Digital Compact (GDC), the UN Secretary-General has issued a policy brief outlining areas in which ‘the need for multistakeholder digital cooperation is urgent’: closing the digital divide and advancing sustainable development goals (SDGs), making the online space open and safe for everyone, and governing artificial intelligence (AI) for humanity. 

The policy brief also suggests objectives and actions to advance such cooperation and ‘safeguard and advance our digital future’. These are structured around the following topics:

  • Digital connectivity and capacity building. The overarching objectives here are to close the digital divide and empower people to participate fully in the digital economy. Proposed actions range from common targets for universal and meaningful connectivity to putting in place or strengthening public education for digital literacy. 
  • Digital cooperation to accelerate progress on the SDGs. Objectives include making targeted investments in digital public infrastructure and services, making data representative, interoperable, and accessible, and developing globally harmonised digital sustainability standards. Among the proposed actions are the development of definitions of safe, inclusive, and sustainable digital public infrastructures, fostering open and accessible data ecosystems, and developing a common blueprint on digital transformation (something the UN would do). 
  • Upholding human rights. Putting human rights at the centre of the digital future, ending the gender digital divide, and protecting workers are the outlined objectives in this area. One key proposed action is the establishment of a digital human rights advisory mechanism, facilitated by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to provide guidance on human rights and technology issues. 
  • An inclusive, open, secure, and shared internet. There are two objectives: safeguarding the free and shared nature of the internet, and reinforcing accountable multistakeholder governance. Some of the proposed actions include commitments from governments to avoid blanket internet shutdowns and refrain from actions disrupting critical infrastructures.
  • Digital trust and security. Objectives range from strengthening multistakeholder cooperation to elaborate norms, guidelines, and principles on the responsible use of digital technologies, to building capacity and expanding the global cybersecurity workforce. The proposed overarching action is for stakeholders to commit to developing common standards and industry codes of conduct to address harmful content on digital platforms. 
  • Data protection and empowerment. Ensuring that data are governed for the benefit of all, empowering people to control their personal data, and developing interoperable standards for data quality as envisioned as key objectives. Among the proposed actions are an invitation for countries to consider adopting a declaration on data rights and seeking convergence on principles for data governance through a potential Global Data Compact. 
  • Agile governance of AI and other emerging technologies. The proposed objectives relate to ensuring transparency, reliability, safety, and human control in the design and use of AI; putting transparency, fairness, and accountability at the core of AI governance; and combining existing norms, regulations, and standards into a framework for agile governance of AI. Actions envisioned range from establishing a high-level advisory body for AI to building regulatory capacity in the public sector. 
  • Global digital commons. Objectives include ensuring inclusive digital cooperation, enabling regular and sustained exchanges across states, regions, and industry sectors, and developing and governing technologies in ways that enable sustainable development, empower people, and address harms. 

The document further notes that ‘the success of a GDC will rest on its implementation’. This implementation would be done by different stakeholders at the national, regional, and sectoral level, and be supported by spaces such as the Internet Governance Forum and the World Summit on the Information Society Forum. One suggested way to support multistakeholder participation is through a trust fund that could sponsor a Digital Cooperation Fellowship Programme. 

As a mechanism to follow up on the implementation of the GDC, the policy brief suggests that the Secretary-General could be tasked to convene an annual Digital Cooperation Forum (DCF). The mandate of the forum would also include, among other things, facilitating collaboration across digital multistakeholder frameworks and reducing duplication; promoting cross-border learning in digital governance; and identifying and promoting policy solutions to emerging digital challenges and governance gaps.

Inter-Parliamentary Union

The IPU is the global organisation of national parliaments. It was founded more than 130 years ago as the first multilateral political organisation in the world, encouraging cooperation and dialogue between all nations. Today, the IPU comprises 180 national Member Parliaments and 15 regional parliamentary bodies. It promotes democracy and helps parliaments develop into stronger, younger, greener, more gender-balanced, and more innovative institutions. It also defends the human rights of parliamentarians through a dedicated committee made up of MPs from around the world.

Digital activities

The IPU’s digital activities mainly focus on the promotion of the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in parliaments. To this end, it has established a Centre for Innovation in Parliament, which undertakes research on the impact of digital technologies on parliaments, publishes the landmark World e-Parliament Report, hosts the biannual World e-Parliament Conference and co-ordinates a network of parliamentary hubs on innovation in parliaments.

Digital policy issues

Capacity development 

In line with its objective to build strong and democratic parliaments, the IPU assists parliaments in building their capacity to use ICTs effectively, both in parliamentary proceedings and in communication with citizens. The IPU has also been mandated by its member parliaments to carry on capacity development programmes for parliamentary bodies tasked to oversee observance of the right to privacy and individual freedoms in the digital environment.

The IPU also encourages parliaments to make use of ICTs as essential tools in their legislative activities. To this aim, the IPU launched the Centre for Innovation in Parliament in 2018 to provide a platform for parliaments to develop and share good practices in digital transformation strategies, as well as practical methods for capacity building. The IPU holds the World e-Parliament Conference, a biannual forum that addresses from both the policy and technical perspectives how ICTs can help improve representation, law-making, and oversight. It also publishes the annual World E-Parliament Report

As of August 2023, eight regional and thematic parliamentary hubs are operating under the Centre for Innovation in Parliament, covering IT governance, open data and transparency, hispanophone countries, Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Each hub is co-ordinated by a national parliament and brings together parliaments to work on subjects of common interest, such as remote working methods during COVID-19.

In 2023 IPU published a Guide to digital transformation in parliaments, in partnership with the Association of Secretaries General of Parliament.

Sustainable development 

The IPU works to raise awareness about the sustainable development goals (SDGs) among parliaments, and provides them with a platform to assist them in taking action and sharing experiences and good practices in achieving the SDGs.

Privacy and data protection 

One of the IPU’s objectives is to promote and protect human rights. To this aim, its Committee on Democracy and Human Rights is involved in activities aimed to contribute to ensuring privacy in the digital era and the use of social media as effective tools to promote democracy. A 2015 resolution on ‘Democracy in the digital era and the threat to privacy and individual freedoms’ calls on parliaments to create adequate mechanisms for the protection of privacy in the online space, and to ensure that legislation in the field of surveillance, privacy, and data protection is based on democratic principles. 

Freedom of expression 

The IPU’s Committee on Democracy and Human Rights works, among others, on promoting the protection of freedom of expression in the digital era and the use of social media as an effective tool to promote democracy. In 2015, the IPU adopted a Resolution on ‘Democracy in the digital era and the threat to privacy and individual freedoms’ encourages parliaments to remove all legal limitations on freedom of expression and the flow of information, and urges them to enable the protection of information in cyberspace, so as to safeguard the privacy and individual freedom of citizens. 

In 2023, the Committee decided to prepare a resolution titled The impact of artificial intelligence on democracy, human rights and the rule of law, for adoption in October 2024. Preparation of the resolution is accompanied by capacity-building activities for parliamentarians on AI.

It offers virtual training sessions for parliamentarians. Its IPU Parline database is an open data platform on national parliaments, which includes data on the age of people in parliament as well as a monthly ranking of women in national parliaments.

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UNESCO to train media in West Africa to use digital tools to cover environmental issues

UNESCO will implement a project in four African countries – Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon – to train news teams from leading media organisations to use digital tools for investigating and reporting on environmental issues.

Given the numerous presence of international and national extractive companies in Africa, Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, highlighted local media’s role in monitoring these companies’ activities and holding them accountable in case of environmental violations.

In addition to equipping media teams with skills to use technologies such as satellite imagery, databases on climate indicators, 3-D modelling, digital maps and others, UNESCO will also instruct them on researching public records for their coverage, including environmental laws and regulations.

After completion of the project, participants are expected to be able to expose actors who are not complying with environmental laws and commitments, identify discrepancies between officially released data and reality and dispute statements made by politicians.

World Economic Forum issues ‘State of the Connected World 2023’ report

The World Economic Forum and the Council on the Connected World published the State of the Connected World 2023 report exploring governance gaps related to the internet of things (IoT). The report outlines the findings of a survey conducted with 271 experts worldwide to understand the state of IoT affairs. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased IoT demand in health, manufacturing, and consumer IoT. However, there is a lack of confidence when it comes to matters such as privacy and security.

Two main governance gaps are identified: (1) a lack of governmental regulation and implementation of industry standards and (2) IoT users are more susceptible to cyber threats and cyberattacks.

One recommendation is for businesses and governments to develop and implement practices to improve privacy and security and create a more inclusive and accessible IoT ecosystem. The need to improve equal access to technology and its benefits is also underscored.

Lockheed Martin will work with NVIDIA to build an AI-driven Earth Observations Digital Twin for NOAA

Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace company, and NVIDIA, a global leader in accelerated computing, will collaborate to build an AI-driven Earth Observations Digital Twin for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It will provide NOAA with a centralised approach to monitoring global environmental conditions, including extreme weather events.

The project will use satellite and ground-based observations, which will be ingested, analysed, shared and visually represented by various platforms developed by the two companies.

Sci-Tech Empowering Rural Transformation 2022 Report: Digital Technology Empowers Agricultural Value Chain Development

The Sci-Tech Empowering Rural Transformation 2022 Report: Digital Technology Empowers Agricultural Value Chain Development, released at the 2022 International Forum on Digital Technology Empowering Rural Transformation, was prepared by the China Internet Information Center (CIIC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representation in China, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) China Office, the World Food Programme (WFP) China Centre of Excellence, the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP-CSAM), AliResearch, and the Chinese Academy of Financial Inclusion.

The report outlines development trends linked to utilising science and technology for rural areas empowerment, and highlights best practices, focusing on those that are innovative, sustainable, and replicable. One key finding is that smart farming solutions and e-agriculture platforms and applications are contributing to optimising production, reducing costs, increasing knowledge sharing, and promoting sustainable development of agriculture.

Also included in the report are case studies in which the application of digital agricultural technologies helped farmers increase productivity with fewer resources while safeguarding the environment and reducing carbon emissions. It further looks at how digital technology has empowered Chinese value chains and supported the development of rural e-commerce and digital finance, thus alleviating poverty in the western and eastern regions of the country.

Commission on the Status of Women: 67th session

The 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), to be held between 6 and 17 March 2023, will have as its priority theme ‘innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls’.

Some of the topics to be discussed under this theme will include addressing barriers to bridge the gender digital divide and promote education in the digital age, and fostering inclusive innovation and technological change to empower women and girls and create safer digital spaces.

The meeting is open to UN member states, UN entities, and non-governmental organisations accredited by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

CSW is the main global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, and it functions as a commission of ECOSOC.

For more details, consult the CSW67 dedicated website.

Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency launches digital system for environmental inspection and compliance evaluation

The Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD) launched ‘Eltezam’, a digital system for environmental inspection and compliance evaluation. The new system allows EAD inspectors to review any aspect of an organisation’s activities regarding potential environmental harms (regardless of whether the activities are listed in the organisation’s environmental licence).

The system is built on algorithms that connect industrial sectors with production processes and conditions.

Faisal Al Hammadi, Acting Executive Director of the Environmental Quality Sector at EAD, noted: ‘The agency has developed modern technological tools and programs that ensure compliance by industrial facilities and development projects with environmental laws and requirements.’

The Unit Head, Compliance and Enforcement at EAD, Ahmed Al Waheebi, said that this new digital system aims to strengthen EAD’s inspection role and expand its coverage to all industrial sectors, infrastructure projects, and commercial activities under its jurisdiction.