High-level policy session 7: Ethical dimensions of information and knowledge societies

9 Apr 2019 18:00h - 18:45h

Event report


This High-Level Policy Session, as a part of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Action Line 10, set out to identify trends, opportunities and challenges in regard to the ethical dimensions of information and knowledge societies. The session moderator Mr Jabu Mtsweni (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research [CSIR]) invited the participants to deliberate on the importance of ethics in emerging technologies and in the future, but also on the meanings of personhood and being human. Mtsweni also asked the panellists to share their experiences in addressing the ethical aspects of information and communications technologies (ICTs).

Mr Yushi Torigoe (Deputy Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunications Union [ITU]) affirmed the ITU support for proactive collaborative and dynamic regulatory frameworks necessary for an equal and inclusive Internet. Torigoe spoke of efforts such as ‘Girls in ICT day’ and online children safety. ‘Co-operation, co-ordination and collaboration are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and ITU stand behind it’, he said.

At WSIS 2019, Singapore won the Action Line 10 award for its Artificial Intelligence (AI) Governance and Ethics Initiatives project. Mr Zee Kin Yeong (Assistant Chief Executive, Infocomm Media Development Authority [IMDA], Singapore) explained that the IMDA recognises the importance of leveraging AI for innovation and growth. For this, building an environment of trust is crucial. The project brings relevant stakeholders together to build a trusted ecosystem (advisory council on ethics) and promote public confidence in AI. It promoted guidance on AI frameworks and common language on ethical issues. It also focuses on funding research on AI to avoid facing problems from ground zero.

Mr Konstantinos Karachalios (Managing Director, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE]) said that technology’s role is to advance humanity. IEEE has therefore been engaged for years in ethical aspects of intelligent technologies and systems. ‘Put your principles into practice’, Karchalios stressed. IEEE has created a global community aimed at understanding the context in which technology is made. From this came out the manifesto on Ethically Aligned Design and a series of standardisation projects. Tools and standards need to follow legislation and regulation.

Ensuring ethical data collection was the focus of Ms Sonja Betschart (Co-Founder and Chief Entrepreneurship Office, WeRobotics). Using robotics such as drones and AI for social good in the Flying Labs project rests 10% on the hardware, and 90% on the data and community engagement. WeRobotics has issued ethical guidelines based on the humanitarian code of conduct and organises workshops on stakeholder and beneficiary engagement. According to Betschart, we need regulation that addresses ethical aspects and establishes easy-to-use guidelines on using technology to address the sustainable development goals.

As a futurist Ms Margaret Regan (President & CEO, The FutureWork Institute) posed a series of questions on the 2030 game changers. Regan noted the development of AI as the first game changer. AI bias is already an issue, as witnessed in problems with facial recognition software. The second game changer is the increase in Enhanced Singular Individuals (ESI). What does it mean if others are enhanced and you are not? The ethics of what it means to be human are reflected in the third game changer, which is the use of CRISPR molecule as a gene-editing tool.

Mr Yuri Grin (Deputy Director General, Intervale) said that it is important to discuss ethics today. According to him, it is a common belief that in the information society people should perceive ethics the same way as we do today. This should be re-evaluated. 

Ms Ayanna T. Samuels (Aerospace Engineer) brought in an intersectional perspective and talked about raising awareness, building confidence in women and ensuring equal treatment in the cyberspace. Ethics includes ensuring that people with multiple forms of social disadvantage are treated fairly and according to their intersectional reality. Many assistive technologies are not cost effective and easily available, yet they remain vital for those that are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Decision makers need to make more informed policy decisions.

At the end of the discussion, Mr Mustafa Jabbar (Minister at the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, Bangladesh) as the Chairman of WSIS 2019 added that while ‘technology is for human beings, human beings are not for technologies.’ Jabbar affirmed his hopes for new policies that will come out of the WSIS 2019.


By Jana Misic