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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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Environment

Carbon dioxide levels hit new record; COVID impact ‘a tiny blip’

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Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere hit a new record of 410.5 parts per million in 2019, and are expected to keep rising this year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on Monday.  

“We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records. The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve”, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.  

Reduced activity associated with COVID-19 lockdowns is expected to cut carbon emissions by 4-7 per cent this year, Professor Taalas said.    

Oksana Tarasova, WMO Chief of Atmospheric and Environment Research Division, told a news conference in Geneva that although it looked like the pandemic had brought the world to a standstill, carbon emissions had continued almost unabated because lockdowns only reduced mobility, not overall energy consumption.   

Steadily rising 

She compared to the carbon levels in the atmosphere to a bathtub that was filling up more and more every year, and even a single drop of carbon would cause the level to rise. The COVID-related lockdowns were equivalent to just slightly reducing the flow from the tap, she said.   

“The CO2 which we have now in the atmosphere is accumulated since 1750, so it’s every single bit which we put in the atmosphere since that time that actually forms the current concentration. It’s not what happened today or yesterday, it’s the whole history of the human economic and human development, which actually leads us to this global level of 410”, Dr. Tarasova said.  

CO2 levels rose by 2.6 ppm in 2019, faster than the average rate for the last ten years, which was 2.37 ppm, and are now 48 per cent higher than the pre-industrial level.   

Professor Taalas said that in order to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which governments pledged to try to stop temperatures rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world needed to switch from coal, oil and gas-fired energy towards solar, wind, hydropower and nuclear power, as well as adopting less-polluting modes of transport, including electric vehicles, biofuels, hydrogen and bicycles.  

Carbon commitments 

He said it was good news that a growing number of countries had committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, which was required to meet the 1.5 degree target.   

“So far we have 50 per cent of the global emissions which are coming from China, European Union and Japan and South Korea, and also 50 per cent of the global GDP behind this”, he declared.  

“And if the US with the Biden administration will have the same target that would mean we would have the majority of our emissions and also the majority of the global economy behind such a target. And we should bend this emissions growth curve in the coming five years, and then we should start seeing drops of the emissions of the order of six per cent per year until 2050 to reach that target.”  

Election pledge  

He said US President-elect Joe Biden had indicated during his election campaign that he would initiate a big financial stimulus for carbon-friendly technologies.   

“We are talking about a couple of trillion. And then he has indicated that he would like to have the same aim as many others, to become carbon neutral by 2050, and of course that would be good news globally, and it might have the domino effect that it might motivate also some other countries to join this kind of movement.” 

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Finance

G20: Global co-operation and strong policy action needed for a sustainable recovery

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The COVID-19 crisis has exposed major weaknesses in our economies that can only be fixed through greater global co-operation and strong, targeted policy action, according to a new OECD report presented to the Leaders of the G20 countries at their virtual Summit this weekend.

New Horizons, a report requested by the G20 to support its Action Plan in response to the crisis, says governments need to plan now for the recovery while continuing to live with the virus. Emergency economic measures to tackle the crisis will need to be adapted, support to people and businesses become more targeted, and new policies put in place to make the objective of a stronger, sustainable and inclusive global economy, a reality.

Speaking at the Summit OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said that ambitious reforms were needed to ensure a vigorous recovery. He added: “We need to make sure health and social protection benefit all, that public and private investment is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, and we need to build resilience into the heart of our economic and social systems.”

The OECD identifies the need for stronger co-operation between governments in a number of fields:

  • in health, from research to distributing COVID-19 vaccines,
  • in trade, to ensure robust global production chains,
  • in the taxation of multinationals as the economy becomes increasingly digitalised,
  • in environmental sustainability, and,
  • in preventing sudden outflows of capital and sovereign debt crises in emerging markets and developing countries.

The report says exceptional fiscal spending and monetary support should be maintained as long as needed to buffer the shock of the pandemic, and outlines how governments should work on three main fronts – to reallocate resources; support people; and build a sustainable and resilient economic system for the future.

The crisis is accelerating changes to the economy, which are often disruptive. Governments will need to assist workers and businesses to transition from shrinking to expanding sectors; by removing barriers to mobility, by increasing competition, and by making it easier for firms to access finance and advanced technologies or to restructure.

Improving training and building skills, particularly among the low-skilled, youths and women who are often vulnerable in the labour market, will be key. Job retention schemes will need to evolve to ensure that people, rather than their jobs, are protected, that their opportunities are widened and their income safeguarded.

Increasing public and private investment particularly in healthcare, digitalisation, lowering carbon emissions, education and skills are essential to reinforce sustainability and resilience.

The New Horizons report is part of the broad range of analysis and recommendations from the OECD and other international organisations to support the work of the G20.

Mr. Gurría welcomed the achievements of the G20 under the Saudi presidency. In particular, he pointed to the G20 reaffirming its targets to reduce the percentage of young people who are most at risk of being left behind in the labour market by 15% by 2025, and to reduce the gender gap in the labour force by 25 % over the next five years. The OECD and ILO will continue monitoring progress in these areas, as well as on the impact of the pandemic on employment and trends in migration.

Mr Gurría said the OECD is continuing to work with the G20 towards achieving a political agreement on how to tax the digital economy by mid-2021. In the Secretary-General’s Tax Report to G20 finance ministers, the OECD warns that without an agreement there would be a proliferation of unilateral measures and an increase in damaging tax and trade disputes that could cut global GDP at a time when we are reeling from the pandemic.

He added that a sustainable economic recovery from the crisis would be undermined by environmentally harmful spending – such as fossil fuel subsidies – which still outweighs more ecologically friendly investments in the recovery packages announced by governments.

Mr Gurría also welcomed G20 progress on fighting corruption and criminalising foreign bribery, including the request by Saudi Arabia to join the OECD Working Group on Bribery, with a view to adhering to the OECD Anti-bribery Convention, the international standard in this area.

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Human Rights

‘Act urgently’ to stave off catastrophic famine in Yemen

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A family in the Al Dhale'e camp for people displaced by the conflict in Yemen. YPN for UNOCHA

Yemen is in “imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades”, the UN chief warned in a statement released on Friday, calling for urgent action on the part of the international community to “stave off catastrophe”.

Secretary-General António Guterres warned that without immediate action to protect civilians battered and starved, after more than five years of grinding civil conflict, “millions of lives may be lost.”

On Tuesday, the UN released $100 million in emergency funding from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), to avert the growing threat of famine across seven countries, including Yemen, deemed most at risk of famine.

‘Time is running out’

Earlier in the month, UN relief chief Mark Lowcock, warned the Security Council that Yemenis were not simply “going hungry”, they were being starved, and all parties to the conflict – between the internationally-recognized Government supported by a Saudi-led coalition, and the opposing Houthi militias which control much of the country including the capital – needed to do everything possible to prevent widespread famine.

“All of us – parties to the conflict, Security Council members, donors, humanitarian organizations and others – should do everything we can to stop this. Time is running out”, Emergency Relief Coordinator and OCHA chief Lowcock told the Council.

Deadly combination

In his statement, the UN chief said a combination of factors had come together to create famine conditions, including “a drastic reduction in funding for the UN-coordinated relief operation this year compared to 2018 and 2019, a failure to sustain external support for Yemen’s economy, especially in stabilizing the value of the Yemeni Rial, and the impact of the ongoing conflict and impediments imposed by powerful Yemeni and other parties on the life-saving work of humanitarian agencies.” 

To cap the crises rooted in human behavior, locusts and floods are compounding the problem, added the UN chief.

“I urge all those with influence to act urgently on these issues to stave off catastrophe, and I also request that everyone avoids taking any action that could make the already dire situation even worse”, said Mr. Guterres. 

“Failing that”, he concluded, “we risk a tragedy not just in the immediate loss of life but with consequences that will reverberate indefinitely into the future.”

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