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The session discussed the positive impacts of new technologies for social change and development. Artificial intelligence (AI) has great potential to do good and help to reach specific development goals. At the same time, strong efforts towards fostering trust and co-operation around new technologies need to be made. Transparency of Internet platforms and apps (and their functions) is crucial in this regard. Connectivity is still an important concern in remote areas of countries where infrastructure is lacking and technology is costly.
The moderator, Ms Sandra Cortesi, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, opened the session by considering that technological developments can have an important role in stimulating social innovation and can be a resource for the global south. Despite the many challenges and pitfalls related to the use of such technology, discussion focused on the positive applications of new technologies.
The panellists were asked to react to three main questions. The first - ‘What is your organisation doing in regards to new technologies and what would be the biggest take away for 2018?’
Ms Caroline Jeanmaire, AI Initiative of the Future of Society incubated at Harvard Kennedy School, explained that the initiative aims at shaping the governance of AI in order to enable positive innovation and thus mitigate the possible risks. The work follows a multistakeholder approach including international organisations, civil society, governments and the private sector. The research focuses on three main areas: AI and law; brain and cognitive science; and AI, health and medicine. She stressed the need for more cooperation around and more trust towards emerging technologies. ‘We are in an AI and emerging technologies revolution’ due to the scale and rapidity of technological change. She was optimistic aboutthe possibility of developing a framework of cooperation because ‘we have common concerns, thus a common ground’ that can help establish partnerships.
Mr Patrick Nommensen, Bytedance, explainedthat the company is based on a vision to build global creation and interaction platforms aiming not just to deliver information but to serve as a creative hub, hosting and nurturing creators. For example, one of their products is Tik tok, a short-video social platform. He considered that the biggest take away for 2018 would be the increased awareness by online platforms of their responsibilities in fostering security in order to create safer communities, and safer online experiences, and to determine what is acceptable and not acceptable in online behaviour, and to set more secure passwords.
Mr Stephen Mawutor Donkor, Africa Open Dataand Internet Research Foundation, talked about Open City Africa which aimsat making some of the cities iin Africa tech resilient. Although most of the data globally is generated in Africa, there is still little awareness ofdata issues. This is why the Foundation is organising campaigns to raise awareness and promote citizens’ education on new technologies.
The second question was ‘What are two concerns that keep at night, in particular leveraging the Internet for societal or educational or cultural purposes?’
Nommensen said that from anonline platform’s point of view, security and access are the central concerns. However, many users do not know about or do not have the possibility to connect to online platforms, because of Internet connectivity issues. For many existing users it is a problem to fully understand how some platformswork. Thus, transparency and education are essential goals to pursue. This is also connected to security: poorly-informed users are more vulnerable to security threats. Solutions include publishing safety centre materials, and releasing more privacy and safety-oriented settings and controls within the apps.
Jeanmaire shared Nommensen’s concern about cybersecurity. With more and more interconnected devices, the potential for disruptive effectsof cyber-attacks is increasing. In addition to hacking, users’ data are at stake as consumers are more and more the target of targeted aids and thus exposed to manipulation for commercial purposes. Awareness is raising around these issues as we can see the concept of cyber peace is more and more being discussed.
Donkor focused mainly on the security of data considered the increasing interconnectivity of the devices as well as of access to the Internet. In particular, there are still parts of Ghana that are not connected to the Internet due to missing infrastructure as well as absence of costly technology in remote areas of the countries. This impedes citizens from accessing information and exchange views.
The third question was ‘What are you excited about, what are you going to work and tackle in 2019?’
Donkor considered connectivity, education and open data systems. He reiterated the importance of connecting to the Internet in remote areas in order to access both information and services. He also stressed the importance of digital literacy programmes to educate citizens on new technologies. Lastly, the need to create more open data systems as ‘a huge chunk of data is not available to people who are looking for it’.
Jeanmaire considered the positive application of AI for developing countries and climate change, especially ahead of Dubai’s World Government Summit in February 2019. She stressed the promises of AI as enabler of positive innovation. She finally clarified that the focus will also be on how to foster cooperation globally around AI, in particular to mitigate ethical risks.
Nommensen suggested two main areas of activities. On the one hand, there is the need to build more tools that connect people better and allow them to fully benefit from the services of apps and platforms. On the other hand, there is also need to develop more tool that would allow users to trust online services more, such as transparency on the apps’ functionalities and use of data.
By Marco Lotti