Opening ceremony

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13 May 2019 10:00 to 12:00

Session ID: 1

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[Read more session reports and live updates from the 22nd Session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development]

The opening ceremony of the 22nd session of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) started with a few words from Mr A Min Tjoa (Chair of the CSTD; Professor and Director, Institute of Software Technology and Interactive Systems, Vienna University of Technology, Austria). He said that critical issues related to the contribution to science, technology, and innovation (STI) in empowering people, ensuring inclusivity and equality, and as enabler of the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs) are at the core of the 22nd session, which focuses on two macro themes: the impact of rapid technological change on sustainable development; and, the building of resilient communities.

Opening statements were addressed by Ms Isabelle Durant (Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)) and Mr Malcolm Johnson (Deputy Secretary-General, International Telecommunications Union (ITU)). Durant stressed the crucial role played by the sharing of knowledge and education to foster the mandate of UNCTAD, driven by collaboration among different stakeholders. The themes of the 22nd session highlight this aspect, underlining the key role of technology in stimulating progress. Johnson explained that there is a need to come up with answers to the challenges that the world is facing in terms of recent technological developments such as artificial intelligence (AI). Given the advantages and potential risks of rapid technological change, new mechanisms to face these challenges need to be put into place to benefit from STI on a global level, and the various of stakeholders involved need to work together. Nonetheless, the functioning of STI needs to be better understood, especially with regards to their ability to upset the way society works (i.e. with genetic manipulation). Therefore, one of the main challenges we face is protecting society from catastrophic changes, while fostering positive innovation.

Johnson focused his speech on the Implementation of the Oucomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), reiterating its progress in line with the achievement of the 2030 Agenda’s goals. He highlighted that all ITU activities are related to the SDGs and their action line. In the WSIS process, the multistakeholder approach – which recalls the need to strengthen collaboration and co-operation among different stakeholders – represents a platform for fostering discussions on how information and communications technology (ICTs) can accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.

The event was then featured by a panel discussion with distinguished scientists, entitled ‘A conversation with great minds’. Moderated by Ms Didi Akinyelure (Award Winning Journalist), it addressed the topic of international co-operation on frontier technologies for sustainable development, by focusing on the opportunities created by new technological developments, on the inclusivity and technological device issue, and on the role of ethical and moral frameworks for learning-based technologies.

Mr Carlo Rubbia (Nobel Laureate for Physics and former Director-General of CERN) focused his speech on the challenges posed by environmental protection and security. While renewable energies seem to represent a good solution, questions remain unanswered with regards to their storage. An alternative pathway for frontier innovation is represented by using fossil energy in a different way, such as by transforming natural gas in hydrogen by recovering CO2 and mixing it with hydrogen. This would produce energy sources, and represent a frontier technology example for sustainable development.

Ms Wendy Hall (Professor, University of Southampton and Executive Director, Web Science Institute) talked about the work of the Web Science Institute, as interdisciplinary research not only focused on the technical aspects of technology, but also on the impact that it has on society. As she argued, the research tries to look at policymaking from a different perspective. As an AI expert, Hall explained that the future will be largely based and impacted by AI and that there is a consequent need to tackle the challenges posed by biases embedded in data, as well as the ethical considerations. On this last point, she argued that ‘In AI, if it is not diverse is not ethical’. With this statement, she stressed the need to have diversity in terms of ethnicity, accessibility, age, gender, and religion, to cite a few. Additionally, she explained that in when it comes to AI, there are currently not enough experts able to talk ethics and their implementation. Thus, fostering research on the topic is crucial, as well as on the implementation of mechanisms such as AI auditing.

Mr Jürgen Schmidhuber (Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, NNAISENSE Scientific Director, Swiss AI, Lab IDSIA Professor of AI, USI & SUPSI, Switzerland) introduced his recent project, which aims to develop an AI system able to act like a human. The project is based on a long short-term memory (LSTM) technique which aims to allow a learning technology system to shape data on its own actions, inventing its own experiments and action sequences. As he explained, the next wave of AI will be about machines that shape data in their actions as artificial agents which are already developed in the lab. This evolution is going to affect everything, especially because in the future, AI will become very cheap. With regards to the conducts and morals of robots learning on their own, he explained that the process will be featured by great commercial pressure on creating a good, ethical AI. This requires that the systems have the freedom to invent themselves in order to produce exponential benefits to society. Inevitably, this will create a transitional period that will affect job availability; but, in the long term, it will create benefits for improving everyday and professional activities.


By Stefania Pia Grottola

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