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UNESCO Member States Adopt Recommended Ethics for AI

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The agreement outlines the biases that AI technologies can “embed and exacerbate” and their potential impact on “human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, gender equality, democracy … and the environment and ecosystems.”by SWAN – Southern World Arts News (paris)Friday, November 26, 2021Inter Press Service

The adopted text, which the agency calls “historic”, outlines the “common values and principles which will guide the construction of the necessary legal infrastructure to ensure the healthy development of AI,” UNESCO says.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. Credit: AM/SWAN

The text states that AI systems “should not be used for social scoring and mass surveillance purposes,” among other recommendations.

The organization’s 193 member states include countries, however, that are known to use AI and other technologies to carry out such surveillance, often targeting minorities and dissidents – including writers and artists. Governments and multinational companies have also used personal data and AI technology to infringe on privacy.

While such states and entities were not named, UNESCO officials acknowledged that the discussions leading up to the adopted text had included “difficult conversations”.

Presenting the agreement Nov. 25 at the organization’s headquarters in Paris, UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay said the initiative to have an AI ethics framework had been launched in 2018.

“I remember that many thought it would be extremely hard if not impossible to attain common ground among the 193 states … but after these years of work, we’ve been rewarded by this important victory for multilateralism,” Azoulay told journalists.

She pointed out that AI technology has been developing rapidly and that it entails a range of profound effects that comprise both advantages to humanity and wide-ranging risks. Because of such impact, a global accord with practical recommendations was necessary, based on input from experts around the world, Azoulay stressed.

The accord came during the 41st session of UNESCO’s General Conference, which took place Nov. 9 to 24 and included the adoption of “key agreements demonstrating renewed multilateral cooperation,” UNESCO said.

While the accord does not provide a single definition of AI, the “ambition” is to address the features of AI that are of “central ethical relevance,” according to the text.

These are the features, or systems, that have “the capacity to process data and information in a way that resembles intelligent behaviour, and typically includes aspects of reasoning, learning, perception, prediction, planning or control,” it said.

While the systems are “delivering remarkable results in highly specialized fields such as cancer screening and building inclusive environments for people with disabilities”, they are equally creating new challenges and raising “fundamental ethical concerns,” UNESCO said.

The agreement outlines the biases that AI technologies can “embed and exacerbate” and their potential impact on “human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, gender equality, democracy … and the environment and ecosystems.”

According to UNESCO, these types of technologies “are very invasive, they infringe on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and they are used in a broad way.”

The agreement stresses that when member states develop regulatory frameworks, they should “take into account that ultimate responsibility and accountability must always lie with natural or legal persons” – that is, humans – “and that AI systems should not be given legal personality” themselves.

“New technologies need to provide new means to advocate, defend and exercise human rights and not to infringe them,” the agreement says.

Among the long list of goals, UNESCO said that the accord aims to ensure that digital transformations contribute as well to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals” (a UN blueprint to achieve a “better and more sustainable future” for the world).

“We see increased gender and ethnic bias, significant threats to privacy, dignity and agency, dangers of mass surveillance, and increased use of unreliable AI technologies in law enforcement, to name a few. Until now, there were no universal standards to provide an answer to these issues,” UNESCO stated.

Regarding climate change, the text says that member states should make sure that AI favours methods that are resource- and energy-efficient, given the impact on the environment of storing huge amounts of data, which requires energy. It additionally asks governments to assess the direct and indirect environmental impact throughout the AI system life cycle.

On the issue of gender, the text says that member states “should ensure that the potential for digital technologies and artificial intelligence to contribute to achieving gender equality is fully maximized.”

It adds that states “must ensure that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of girls and women, and their safety and integrity are not violated at any stage of the AI system life cycle.”

Alessandra Sala, director of Artificial Intelligence and Data Science at Shutterstock and president of the non-profit organization Women in AI – who spoke at the presentation of the agreement – said that the text provides clear guidelines for the AI field, including on artistic, cultural and gender issues.

“It is a symbol of societal progress,” she said, emphasizing that understanding the ethics of AI was a shared “leadership responsibility” which should include women’s often “excluded voices”.

In answer to concerns raised by journalists about the future of the recommendations, which are essentially non-binding, UNESCO officials said that member states realize that the world “needs” this agreement and that it was a step in the right direction.

© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Article: globalissues.org

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When Will Countries Ever Learn How Well to Do Fuel Subsidy Reforms?

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View of downtown Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Credit: World Bank/Shynar JetpissovaOpinion by Alan Gelb, Anit Mukherjee (washington dc)Friday, January 28, 2022Inter Press Service

Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia called for restraint and dialogue. 6 January 2022

Protestors are out on the streets, clashing violently with security forces called in to maintain law and order. They vent their frustration not only with rising fuel prices but also with living costs, lack of social services, crumbling infrastructure, corruption and political repression.

Faced with the prospect of a popular uprising, the government backtracks on reforms and re-institutes subsidies, postponing the hard decisions for a later date.

This is Kazakhstan in 2022. It is also Ecuador in 2019, Nigeria in 2012, Bolivia in 2010, Indonesia in 2005 and several other energy exporters which have tried to end, or at least reduce, fuel subsidies over the last two decades.

The list will grow significantly if we include importers who are more exposed to the vagaries of international energy prices. What is interesting is that the story plays out in almost exactly the same way, and the consequences of both action – and inaction – are very similar as well.

For resource rich countries like Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nigeria, subsidized energy, especially from fossil fuels, is one of the few tangible ways by which citizens can feel that they have a claim to a national resource.

While the level of subsidies varies, at some $228 dollars per head or 2.6% of GDP in 2020, those of Kazakhstan are high but not the highest among exporters. In a situation where the government is generally perceived to be repressive, incompetent and corrupt, food and fuel subsidies keep a lid on deeper grievances. It is economically damaging but politically expedient, a delicate equilibrium that many countries have sought to manage over the last several decades – with little success.

Our research has shown that there is a better way to do energy subsidy reform. Providing direct cash transfers to compensate for the rise in energy prices can be a “win-win” solution. To put it simply, energy compensatory transfers (ECT) enable households, especially the poor and the vulnerable, to absorb the shock and reallocate resources as per their needs.

By removing the arbitrage between subsidized and market prices, ECTs can also reduce corruption, improve distribution and incentivize efficient use of energy. Countries like Iran, India, Jordan and the Dominican Republic have been relatively successful in this type of reform, and their experience holds lessons for other countries that choose to embark on this path.

Digital technology can help significantly to identify beneficiaries, provide them necessary guidance and information, and transfer payments directly to individuals and households. Three key enablers of ECTs are an identification system with universal coverage of the population, strong communications and wide access to financial accounts.

Multiple databases can be cross-checked to verify eligibility norms and grievance redressal systems can help reduce exclusion of genuine beneficiaries. As shown, for example, by India’s LPG subsidy reform, countries can progressively tighten the eligibility criteria over time to target the poorest sections of the population.

Finally, ECTs can provide the impetus for a more transparent and accountable system of subsidy management, helping improve public confidence and support to the government’s reform agenda over the long run.

So, why don’t more countries follow this approach? For one, most energy subsidy reforms are pushed forward in times of economic crisis. ECTs require political commitment, openness to engage in public dialogue, building consensus among stakeholders and powerful vested interests, setting up implementation systems and working across different government ministries, departments and agencies.

Direct compensation is also more transparent than the frequently opaque systems of price subsidization that favor the rich, with their higher energy consumption, even if justified by the need to protect the poor.

ECTs are not simple solutions and often require time to be put in place. On the surface, it may seem simpler to just raise energy prices overnight through an administrative order. But the payoffs are significant in terms of sustainability, economic outcomes, social cohesion and political stability.

The sooner countries can take a longer term approach, the better will they be able to manage the transition to a more sustainable system that supports those who need it most.

Kazakhstan is the first country in 2022 to see popular unrest due to fuel price hike. It almost certainly would not be the last.

Anit Mukherjee is a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. Alan Gelb is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.


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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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Griffiths to Security Council: ‘Your Responsibility Is Not Over’ to Syrian People

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© UNICEFChildren sit outside their family tent at the Alzhouriyeh makeshift camp in east rural Homs, Syria.Thursday, January 27, 2022UN News

“It is not over for the Syrian people,” said Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, as he outlined the myriad challenges.  “And your responsibility is not over either.”  

As I’ve said before, we’re failing the Syrian people, young and old. Failure each year can’t be our strategy.

This year, we have to lighten the load on Syrian civilians.

I urge Member States to work with the UN and other key humanitarian agencies on a new approach.

My remarks:

— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief)

January 27, 2022

Early recovery essential 

The humanitarian affairs chief said it was essential to scale up early recovery programmes – aimed at addressing needs that arise during the humanitarian phase of an emergency – which can offer a pathway to more self-sufficiency and restore basic services.  

Perhaps most immediately, he drew attention to the hundreds of children who this week, have been trapped in a terrifying prison siege in Al-Hasakah, in Syria’s northwest. 

He cited reports announced by Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on 25 January, of fatalities among children besieged inside the Al-Hasakah’s Ghwayran military detention facility, and of children trapped as ISIL-affiliated inmates battled Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Forces (SDF), being forced to take part in the fighting. 

News reports indicate the siege is now over with the Kurds regaining control of the prison, but Mr. Griffiths told ambassadors that it was of “critical importance that all children are accounted for, evacuated to safety, and supported,” he insisted.   

Their predicament echoes that of the country, Mr. Griffiths stressed.  He described Syrian girls and boys shivering in tents in the snow, while others are stuck in displacement camps or detention facilities, and millions more – lucky enough to have housing – are still missing out on a healthy diet and reliable schooling. 

Failing the people 

We are failing the Syrian people, young and old,” he said.  “I urge you to work with the United Nations on new approaches.”  

The Under-Secretary General recalled that six civilians were killed on 20 January when missiles landed in Afrin city, while another airstrike in early January, severely damaged the main water station servicing Idlib city.   

Alongside security concerns, unusually bitter winter storms last week damaged thousands of tents in camps in the northwest, forcing those displaced to burn garbage to stay warm and risk asphyxiation, sheltering from sub-zero temperatures. 

Just not enough 

With the cost of a food basket reaching new highs in each of the last four months, and international aid declining, “the food aid we provide to millions of people each month is just not enough,” he warned. 

He called for ongoing support for the UN’s six-month plan for humanitarian operations, drawing attention to early recovery projects to support food production and the cross-line delivery of aid to Syria’s northwest.  Two such operations have been completed and a third is expected to take place soon, he added. 

‘From war to hell’ 

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, agreed that conditions have grown “dramatically worse,” amid renewed armed conflict in Dara’a, Damascus and Eastern Ghouta. 

Mr. Egeland – who was formerly UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, from 2003 to 2006 – said the economic crisis, exacerbated by drought, is now so deep that families he had met during his recent visit described their journey as one “from war to hell”. 

He implored the Council to end this “suffocating paralysis”, requesting “help from you as members of the Security Council, and from you as influential powers with parties and actors in the region.  “The situation demands it.” 

Humanitarian diplomacy 

Specifically, Mr. Egeland called for help to end access restrictions on all sides of the conflict lines, stressing that humanitarian work is still too often held back by administrative, logistical, legal and physical barriers.  More effective humanitarian diplomacy is needed.  

For example, he said the Russian Federation can help on the Syrian Government side, where the Norwegian Refugee Council is still unable to provide legal aid to displaced people and returnees, while Turkey and the United States can help with de facto authorities in opposition-controlled areas.  

He also called for help in negotiating solutions to conflicts in Idlib and elsewhere, emphasizing that “we cannot allow a war to rage in what is, in reality, a gigantic string of displacement camps.” 

A call for solidarity 

Meanwhile, he said civilians must be able to seek protection and emphasized that “now is not the time to close borders.” 

It will also be essential to resume a deconfliction system, ensure cross-border and cross-line relief, secure access to water and agreement around waterways from the north, support the rehabilitation of civilian infrastructure, enable durable solutions for refugees and close the funding gap for humanitarian operations. 

“2021 was one of the worst years on record for civilians in Syria,” he said. “We urge donor countries not to turn their backs in 2022.”

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

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In Central Sahel, ‘needs Are Growing Faster Than Generosity’

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© UNOCHA/Michele CattaniA portrait of a Malian refugee in Tillaberi region, Niger.Thursday, January 27, 2022UN News

According to Martin Griffiths, nearly 15 million people in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, will need humanitarian assistance this year. That’s four million people more than a year before. 

The UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) led by Mr. Griffiths, and its partners, will need close to $2 billion for the humanitarian response in these three countries alone. 

In the Central Sahel, needs are growing faster than the support that is available.

Yet, the Sahel is also a region of enormous potential.

Working together, we can reverse the trend with more efforts focused on resilience, sustainable solutions and cooperation.

My full remarks:

— Martin Griffiths (@UNReliefChief)

January 27, 2022

It is a grim picture. Conflict, drought and food insecurity, gender-based violence – all growing more quickly than the support that is available”, the Emergency Relief Coordinator explained. 

The online meeting was a joint effort by the United Nations, the European Union, the German Federal Foreign Office and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Denmark. 

Fact-finding mission

Last week, Mr. Griffiths visited Nigeria and met people affected by the Lake Chad Basin crisis. 

“The stories they told me are emblematic of the struggles people across the central Sahel face: violence, repeated displacement, and difficulty finding sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families”, he recalled, saying he hopes to visit Mali and Niger in the months ahead.

Together, conflict, climate change, political instability, lack of sustainable development opportunities, and poverty, are driving millions into increasingly desperate conditions. COVID-19 has only made the situation worse.

Violent attacks went up eight-fold in the central Sahel between 2015 and 2021. In the same period, the number of fatalities increased more than ten-fold.

Millions displaced

“The result is more than two million people displaced including half a million internally displaced last year alone”, the humanitarian chief said. 

In the meantime, insecurity and attacks continue to disrupt already weak basic social services.

More than 5,000 schools are closed or non-operational. Many health centres are not working. Displacement and increased insecurity have disrupted access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services. 

According to the last estimates, the number of people facing severe food insecurity has tripled in Mali and doubled in Niger compared to November 2020.

During the lean season, more than eight million are expected to be affected.

Obstacles to aid

While needs grow, the central Sahel remains “one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers”, said Mr. Griffiths, noting that one-third of all abductions of aid workers in the world in 2020, occurred in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

“Despite these difficulties, humanitarian organizations reached more than seven million people in the region in 2021 and raised $700 million”, he added. 

Unfortunately, the UN relief chief informed, this is not even halfway to meeting the needs of people in the Sahel.

To help bridge that funding gap, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF)released $54.5 million in 2021 for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. In the same year, OCHA established the first-ever regional pooled fund, last totalling nearly $33 million.

The humanitarian chief concluded on a positive note, noting that the Sahel is “a region of enormous potential” and that, working together, it’s possible to reverse the current trend. 

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

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