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Artificial Intelligence Must Be Designed to Augment Human Ability and Opportunity

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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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UN mourns death of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ‘a guiding force for good’

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Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations. In this photo from 2003, he is addressing reporters at Headquarters. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The United Nations is mourning the death of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who passed away peacefully after a short illness, according to a statement published on his official Twitter account on Saturday. The renowned Ghanain diplomat was 80 years old.

The current UN chief, Antonio Guterres hailed him as “a guiding force for good” and a “proud son of Africa who became a global champion for peace and all humanity.”

“Like so many, I was proud to call Kofi Annan a good friend and mentor. I was deeply honoured by his trust in selecting me to serve as UN High Commissioner for Refugees under his leadership. He remained someone I could always turn to for counsel and wisdom — and I know I was not alone,” Mr. Guterres said in a statement.

“He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world.  In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter. His legacy will remain a true inspiration for all us.”

Kofi Annan was born in Kamasi, Ghana, on 8 April 1938.

He joined the UN system in 1962 as an administrative and budget officer with the World Health Organization in Geneva, rising through the ranks to hold senior-level posts in areas such as budget and finance, and peacekeeping.

He served as UN Secretary-General for two consecutive five-year terms, beginning in January 1997.

Mr. Annan joined the UN system in 1962 as an administrative and budget officer with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, rising to hold senior-level posts in areas such as budget and finance, and peacekeeping.

As Mr. Guterres noted: “In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination.”

From his beginnings in Geneva, Mr. Annan held UN posts in places such as Ethiopia, Egypt, the former Yugoslavia and at Headquarters in New York.

Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he was tasked with facilitating the repatriation of more than 900 international staff as well as the release of Western hostages.

He later led the first UN team negotiating with Iraq on the sale of oil to fund purchases of humanitarian aid.

Immediately prior to his appointment as Secretary-General in January 1997, Mr. Annan headed the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations during a period which saw an unprecedented growth in the Organization’s field presence.

His first major initiative as UN chief was a plan for UN reform, presented to Member States in July 1997.

Mr. Annan used his office to advocate for human rights, the rule of law, development and Africa, and he worked to bring the UN closer to people worldwide by forging ties with civil society, the private sector and other partners.

As Secretary-General, he also galvanized global action to fight HIV/AIDS and combat terrorism.

Mr. Annan and the United Nations jointly were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

In his farewell statement to the UN General Assembly in December 2006, Kofi Annan expressed emotion over leaving what he called “this mountain with its bracing winds and global views.”

Although the job had been difficult and challenging, he admitted that it was also “thrillingly rewarding” at times.

“And while I look forward to resting my shoulder from those stubborn rocks in the next phase of my life, I know I shall miss the mountain,” he said.

However, Mr. Annan did not rest, taking on the role of UN Special Envoy for Syria in the wake of the conflict which began in March 2011.

He also chaired an Advisory Commission established by Myanmar in 2016 to improve the welfare of all people in Rakhine state, home to the minority Rohingya community.

His homeland, Ghana, established an international peacekeeping training centre that bears his name, which was commissioned in 2004.

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Waste-to-energy and circular economy workshops to be held in Uruguay

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photo: UNIDO

The Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Technology Executive Committee (TEC), and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) are organizing two workshops during the Latin America & Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW), which will take place between 20 and 23 August in Montevideo. The sessions, titled: “Enabling circular economy solutions to boost climate action” and “Enabling waste-to-energy, industrial waste reuse and prevention solutions to achieve circular economy and boost climate action”, will be held as part of the Regional Technical Expert Meetings on Mitigation (TEMs-M) and the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action.

The first workshop will present the concept of “circular economy”, an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use and dispose), which is restorative and regenerative by design and redefines products and services to design waste out, being ultimately powered by renewables. The second workshop will then discuss how waste-to-energy, industrial waste reuse and prevention solutions are integral parts to achieving a circular economy and its associated economic and environmental benefits.

The events will bring together members from the civil society, UN agencies and financial institutions. The high-impact case studies presented will serve as a basis for discussion on the vision/goal in terms of harnessing mitigation potential and co-benefits of circular economy related policies, practices and actions as well as on innovative approaches to waste-to-energy and waste reuse/prevention that are actionable in the short term for the region. Participants will learn the necessary elements for replication and upscaling of circular economy and specifically waste-to-energy solutions, such as policy, partnerships and the need of financial, technical and capacity building resources.

Manuel Albaladejo, UNIDO Representative in Uruguay, said, “It is important to understand that the circular economy starts at the design stage and that profitability rarely comes by bending a linear model into a circular one.”

With the Latin America Carbon Forum as a cornerstone event, the focus of Latin America & Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW) will be placed on market-based approaches, economic instruments and climate-aligned finance to drive investment in climate action.

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Multilateralism: The only path to address the world’s troubles

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Secretary-General António Guterres (center) meets with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. Photo: UNFPA Bangladesh/Allison Joyce

As the world’s problems grow, multilateralism represents to best path to meet the challenges that lie ahead, said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday, launching his annual report.

The Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization  for 2018, also tracks the progress made over the last year in maintaining peace and security, protecting human rights, and promoting sustainable development.

“I started my tenure calling for 2017 to be a year of peace, yet peace remains elusive,” said the UN chief in the report’s introduction, noting that since January last year “conflicts have deepened, with grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law; inequality has risen, intolerance has spread, discrimination against women remains entrenched and the impacts of climate change continue to accelerate.”

“We need unity and courage in setting the world on track towards a better future,” stressed Mr. Guterres, crediting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for generating coordinated efforts by Member States and civil society to “alleviate poverty and build peaceful, prosperous and inclusive societies.”

Wide-ranging reform

The most comprehensive reform of the UN development system in decades already underway, led by Mr. Guterres and his deputy, Amina Mohammed, aims to strengthen the Organization’s capacity to support Member States in achieving the 17 SDGs.

While the report points to gains, such as increased labour productivity, access to electricity and strengthened internet governance, it also illustrates that progress has been uneven and too slow to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals within the given time frame.

For example, in 2015, three out of 10 people did not have access to safe drinking water, and  60 per cent lacked safe sanitation. Moreover conflicts, disasters and climate change are also adversely affecting populations.

The report underlines the importance of building stronger multilateral partnerships with Member States; regional and international organizations; and civil society; to “find solutions to global problems that no nation alone can resolve.”

Although the 2018 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development of 2018 reflected some positive initiatives, it also showed the urgent need to step up efforts in areas such as energy cooperation, water and terrestrial ecosystems.

According to the report, “partnerships are key to achieving the SDGs” – and as of June, 3,834 partnerships had been registered with the Partnerships for the SDGs online platform from different sectors across all the 17 goals.

With regard to technology, last October a joint meeting of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Second Committee welcomed Sophia, the first robot to sit on a UN panel. This gave a glimpse into the advances being made in the realm of Artificial Intelligence.

Turning to young people, UN Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, of Sri Lanka, is continuously advocating for their needs and rights, including in decision-making processes at all levels, and in strengthening the UN system’s coordination on delivering for youth, and with their increased participation.

The UN report also spoke to the growing scale, complexity and impact of global migration. In July, the General Assembly agreed a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which will be presented for adoption in December at an Intergovernmental Conference in Morocco.

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