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Artificial Intelligence Must Be Designed to Augment Human Ability and Opportunity

MD Staff

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As humanity enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution, development of artificial intelligence (AI) must be guided by one overarching principle – technology must augment, not replace, human capability and opportunity.

Experts speaking at an interactive session on artificial intelligence at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting agreed that technology and access to technology must be democratized. They said it is essential to provide people with the relevant knowledge and skills to lay the groundwork for a more egalitarian and sustainable era of cognitive computing.

Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at IBM Corporation, USA, which has taken the lead in cognitive computing within the information technology industry and has developed the advanced AI platform Watson, said transparency is imperative to develop trust in cognitive computing. Soon, everyone will be working with AI technologies and people will want to know how they were designed, by which experts and using which data. “Humans need to remain in control of it,” Rometty said, adding that it is imperative that technology be created for, by and with the people.

Panellists agreed that ethical and legal concerns must be factored in at the start of the design process, underlining the importance for customers, lawyers, ethicists, scientists and technology developers to work together.

Highlighting the need to democratize technology design, Joichi Ito, Director, Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, said it is worrying that the demographic in Silicon Valley consists of mostly white men. He gave the example of a face-recognition technology that failed to recognize dark faces, reflecting a lack of diversity among the engineers who designed it. “AI is still a bespoke art; the customer cannot imagine the tool yet,” he said, suggesting that stakeholders, including the customer, the lawyer and the ethicist, have a say in technology creation.

Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer at Microsoft Corporation, USA, said his organization is focusing on how to make technology broadly accessible. He cited the success of Microsoft’s Skype Translator, the speech-to-speech translation application available for free download. Speaking of the challenges that lie ahead, Nadella said many questions remain to be answered, such as how to fix responsibility for decisions made by algorithms that humans have not written, and whether the AI surplus that will be created will be shared equitably.

“Overall world GDP growth is not stellar,” Nadella said. “We actually need AI.” To ensure that AI and the Fourth Industrial Revolution help solve the pressing problems of today, such as climate change, education and drug discovery, and to ensure inclusive growth, it is important to help train people for the jobs of the future, he said. In a world with a surfeit of AI, human values such as common sense and empathy will be scarce. These are the values that the citizens of tomorrow would need most to make humanity the very best it can be, he added.

Ron Gutman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of HealthTap, an online application that brings patients and doctors together, said AI will create new jobs that do not exist today. For instance, sensors and wearables provide so much data that it will become possible to move from reactive to proactive medicine, creating a new ecosystem of jobs.

Rometty highlighted her idea of “new collar” jobs, which pivots on the belief that the skills needed for tomorrow’s jobs are not just the high-end, high-technology skills that can only be acquired through a traditional college degree. Many jobs, such as those of cloud computing technicians and service delivery specialists, will need skills often obtained through vocational training or in non-traditional ways. She emphasized at the same time that everybody will need retraining.

Ito agreed, noting that everybody will have to acquire an understanding of AI, and education systems will have to be made more dynamic as technology will change rapidly.

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Human Rights

Violence in Sudan’s Western Darfur forces 2,500 into Chad

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Sudanese refugees flee across the border to escape Darfur violence. Twenty-three-year-old Sudanese refugee fled with her children to Kartafa in Chad in July 2020. © UNHCR/Aristophane Ngargoune

Recent clashes in Sudan’s Western Darfur region has driven more than 2,500 people across the border into neighbouring Chad, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported.

According to UNHCR, more than 80 per cent of those arriving in the Chadian border town of Adré are women, children and elderly – many of whom have witnessed extreme violence.

Attacks, said to have been carried out by armed nomads in the town of Masteri in Western Darfur, killed 61 people from the Masalit ethnic community and injured at least 88 on 25 July. Houses were also reported to have been burned to the ground in the town and the surrounding villages.

“A 25-year-old woman told UNHCR staff that her husband was stabbed to death in front of her eyes and she had to run for her life with her three children, making the journey to Chad riding a donkey for one full day”, Babar Baloch, a spokesperson for the agency said at Tuesday’s regular media briefing, in Geneva.

About 20,000 affected within Sudan

In addition to those who fled into Chad, an estimated 20,000 people within Western Darfur in Sudan have been affected by the unrest – the majority of whom are women and children.

Mr. Baloch said that the situation has stabilized since the attacks but “remains unpredictable” and those displaced are still hesitant to return home and are demanding better security.

Federal authorities in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, have reportedly deployed additional forces to control and calm the situation. A delegation from the Masalit community and Arab tribal leaders arrived in El Geneina, the capital of Western Darfur, from Khartoum on 4 August and is conducting peace talks between both sides, added the UNHCR spokesperson.

Response hit by heavy rains

In Chad, UNHCR, in collaboration with the Government and humanitarian partners, is relocating the refugees from the border areas to the Kouchaguine-Moura refugee camp further inland, where they will be provided with food, shelter, water and emergency relief items.

The camp will also provide access to hygiene and health, including isolation units, as part of the response to COVID-19, said Mr. Baloch.

The relocation, however, has been slow due to heavy rains and poor road conditions, with about 443 refugees arriving at the camp last week. The Kouchaguine-Moura camp is already hosting more than 6,000 Sudanese refugees who had arrived in February 2020.

Rains have also hampered efforts to assess the situation and organize a response to assist those affected in Sudan.

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Human Rights

Pandemic highlights importance of indigenous self-determination

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In Belize, indigenous communities are considered key allies for conservation and sustainable development efforts. UNDP/Ya'axche

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to ensure the world’s indigenous people have control over their own communities, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has affirmed.

Michelle Bachelet described the pandemic as “a critical threat” to indigenous communities everywhere, at a time when many are also struggling against man-made environmental damage and economic depredation.

“Overall, the pandemic hammers home the importance of ensuring that indigenous peoples can exercise their rights to self-government and self-determination”, she said in a message for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, observed this Sunday.

“This is about saving lives and protecting a precious web of cultures, languages and traditional knowledge, that connect us to the deep roots of humanity.”

Among the world’s poorest

There are roughly 476 million indigenous people worldwide, according to UN estimates.

Although less than five per cent of the global population, they account for 15 per cent of the poorest people on the planet.

Ms. Bachelet noted that many indigenous communities have “deeply inadequate” access to health care, clean water and sanitation, while their communal way of life can increase the probability of rapid contagion.

Ancestral knowledge lost

COVID-19 cases have surpassed 18 million globally, and the Americas remain the epicenter of the crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced earlier this this week.

The UN rights chief said more than 70,000 indigenous people across the region have been infected to date, including almost 23,000 members of 190 indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin.

“Over 1,000 deaths have been recorded, including several elders with deep knowledge of ancestral traditions”, she added. “They include the tragic death in Brazil this week of chief Aritana, of the Yawalapiti people.”

Lives under threat

The Amazon spans nine countries and Ms. Bachelet noted that indigenous communities in the vast region live on lands that are increasingly damaged and polluted due to illegal mining, logging and slash-and-burn agriculture.

Despite measures to contain COVID-19 spread, such as movement restrictions, many of these activities have continued, alongside movements by religious missionaries which also expose the indigenous to the risk of infection.

Meanwhile, those indigenous people who live in voluntary isolation from the modern world may have particularly low immunity to viral infection.

Ms. Bachelet said indigenous communities must have a role in pandemic response, stressing that “they must also be consulted, and should be able to participate in the formulation and implementation of public policies affecting them, through their representative entities, leaders and traditional authorities”.

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Building a green economy, brick by brick

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Eduardo Romero has spent a lifetime in bricks—as a brickmaker for 28 years, and a bricklayer before that. Germandy Perez-Galeno/UN Uruguay

In Uruguay, thousands of families earn a precarious livelihood making bricks, using traditional methods that are often inefficient and harmful to the environment. A UN project, in collaboration with the Uruguayan government, aims to make the industry less polluting, whilst preserving jobs for the many artisans who depend on it. 

Land, fire and water

When Eduardo Romero was 40 years old, he was fired from his job as a bricklayer. It was 1992, in the city of Durazno, Uruguay. With his few belongings on his shoulder, Eduardo headed for the north of the country and stopped only when he found work. It was in the city of Tranqueras, and his new source of income came from land, fire and water: Eduardo started making bricks.

Today, five jobs, two ventures, three children and 28 years later, Mr. Romero is still linked to this insecure industry, which is both an easy source of employment for those who need it most, but where people work without social security or insurance, and with their labour rights continuously violated. “It is a precarious sector,” says Mr. Romero. “We are always on the edge of town, wearing dirty clothes.” 

Reliable statistics on the industry are hard to come by, but estimates suggest that there are some 14,000 families working in 3,500 production units across the country. The informal nature of the work makes for high turnover. 

Changing traditions

On top of the pressure on individual workers, the industry has a negative impact on the environment; emissions are high and some brickmakers, lacking other sources of fuel, burn protected species of trees.

During the brickmaking season, which lasts from September to April, an artisanal producer can make an average of about 30,000 bricks per month; the entire sector in Uruguay yields enough bricks every year to build at least 1,500 new houses, plus hundreds of businesses, kilns, factories, and more.

Eduardo is one of a growing number of artisanal producers who are changing the way they make bricks and, in the process, helping the entire country enjoy a cleaner environment. But in a sector like this, changing traditions is difficult.

Turning mud and garbage into solid foundations

Making bricks the traditional way, is an art that requires several stages. First the elements are obtained to make the raw material: water, soil, clay, sand, and organic matter such as horse dung.

This material is mixed and put into moulds, then laid out to dry for three days. Then they are baked in an oven, with firewood serving as the main fuel, for between two and seven days, and allowed to cool. Four days later they are ready for sale.

At each stage of the process, there are abundant occupational hazards and environmental impacts.

‘Far behind in technological terms’

In addition, this method is far more inefficient than modern, mechanized techniques: according to the government, factories can churn out bricks almost seven times faster than an artisanal producer.

“The artisanal brick industry is far behind in technological terms,” says Pablo Montes, who works for the Uruguayan government, and is also national coordinator of PAGE Uruguay (Partnership for Action on the Green Economy), a project involving the UN and the Uruguayan Government.

He explains that there are significant obstacles to artisans moving to newer techniques: it has fewer job opportunities; it also requires certification that most artisans don’t have, whether for the expense, or because many have not finished primary school and can barely read or write.   

That’s why PAGE is looking to support the artisanal industry, helping workers to enjoy greater rights and higher incomes, and cutting pollution during the production process. 

PAGE staff talked to brickmakers from all over the country, looking for improvements at every stage of the production process, and brought in consultants from other countries – such as Colombia, which has already undergone its own transformation – to give workshops on how to make better bricks.

By doing so, PAGE is helping to move Uruguay closer to the twin goals of a greener and more prosperous economy. The project is still in progress, and is developing even better methods and training more brickmakers. 

Artisanal, safer, greener

“Transforming the industry will allow these ventures to be successful,” says Mr. Romero. Still, he has no illusions that such a change will be easy to achieve.

“In this profession, there are men and women who have made an honest living for decades or for their whole lives,” he explains. Artisanal brickmaking is a way of life, a tradition. Countless homes and businesses in every part of Uruguay have been built with bricks made by the hands of anonymous laborers. They have invested their lives in the profession, and they are proud of what they have created. 

“That is what we are trying to defend,” says Mr. Romero. Even as he changes his own way of working, with guidance from PAGE, he realizes that not everyone will be so quick to adapt. Some may be sceptical of outsiders who come to teach them a skill they’ve practiced for many years. 

Pablo Montes of PAGE is optimistic that brickmakers will be won over by the benefits that the new ways of working offer them. “We want to keep the industry artisanal, while making it safer and greener,” he says. “We can have both.”

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