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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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New Solar Project to Restore Electricity to Over One Million Yemenis

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The World Bank announced today a new project to finance off-grid solar systems in Yemen to power vital basic services, and improve access to electricity for vulnerable Yemenis in rural and outlying urban areas.

Funded by a US$50 million grant from IDA, the World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries, the new project will rely on the commercial solar market, which has grown despite the conflict, providing further support to the local economy and creating jobs.

Solar power has proved to be the most immediate solution for severe energy shortages in Yemen. A booming solar industry has developed driven by the private sector, but the costs have put the technology beyond the reach of public facilities and the most vulnerable populations.

The Yemen Emergency Electricity Access Project will work with the current solar supply chain and the existing network of microfinance institutions, to finance and deliver off-grid solar systems to rural and peri-urban areas. The aim is to restore or improve access to electricity to 1.4 million people, around half of them women. The project will also fund solar power for critical infrastructure, such hospitals, schools, water corporations, and rural electricity providers.

The lack of electricity in Yemen has had a devastating impact on Yemenis and the provision of services,” said Dr. Asad Alam, World Bank Group Country Director for Yemen, Egypt, and Djibouti. “While responding to immediate need, the project will contribute to building a more inclusive and sustainable solar market in Yemen through targeted financing to the private sector which will expand its reach to the poor and vulnerable.

The project will be implemented in partnership with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and in collaboration with the local private sector, including Micro Finance Institutions, solar equipment suppliers and technicians. Working with the Yemeni private sector will help create hundreds of jobs.

Investing in solar will make Yemen’s electricity more resilient, reduce the dependence on fuels for critical service facilities, and create jobs in the private sector,” said Joern Torsten Huenteler, World Bank Energy Specialist and Task Team Leader of the project, “What Yemenis need today more than ever is a quick and innovative energy solutions to help ease the crisis.

With this new financing, IDA emergency grants to Yemen issued since July 2016 have totaled US$1.183 billion.

These projects have been prepared – and are being implemented – in partnership with Yemeni institutions and UN organizations such as the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and the United Nations Office for Project Services.

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Japan works with UNIDO to boost employment in Lebanon

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Photo: UNIDO

The Government of Japan has announced that it will fund a project to create jobs in the carpentry and construction sectors in northern Lebanon. This is one of eight new projects implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Ethiopia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Nigeria, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic, with Japanese funding totaling US$5.2m.

The project will build upon previous interventions to create economic opportunities, particularly among host and refugee communities, in the northern areas of the country. The technical assistance will focus on the design of new training modules for construction skills training and the delivery of marketable vocational skills training to vulnerable individuals.

Matahiro Yamaguchi, Ambassador of Japan to Lebanon, stated, “Japan is very keen on creating employment opportunities in productive sectors such as carpentry and construction, in order to promote economic development in the country.” He expressed hope that the project assists both Lebanese residents and Syrian refugees in gaining access to job markets and entrepreneurship by equipping them with essential technical skills and practical knowledge.

Speaking at the kick-off event held on 28 March at UNIDO headquarters in Vienna, during which the eight projects and the funding from the Government of Japan were announced, UNIDO Director General, LI Yong, highlighted that the projects aim to strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus and promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development by taking a human security approach.

Ambassador Mitsuru Kitano, the Permanent Representative of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna, stated that the projects will “help individuals to live under healthy conditions, consolidate their livelihoods and, with all of this, gain optimism for their future.”

Lebanon continues to be by far the largest host of Syrian refugees in proportion to population. The country is currently hosting more than one million refugees, resulting in a 25% increase in the population. In particular, interventions aimed at creating jobs and economic opportunities are considered urgent by the government and the United Nations.

This project will target individuals in areas that have been significantly impacted by the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon in order to upgrade their skills and knowledge to be better prepared to handle any external shocks to the labour market, as well as to enhance their employability. Given the backdrop of high youth unemployment (30%), falling oil prices and a slow in economic growth, this training couldn’t come at a better time for participants in the north of Lebanon.

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Economy and Human Welfare to Grow Under IRENA’s 2050 Energy Transformation Roadmap

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Increasing the speed of global renewable energy adoption by at least a factor of six – critical to meeting energy-related emission reduction needs of the Paris Climate Agreement – can limit global temperature rise to two degrees, according to the latest edition of the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) long-term renewable energy outlook. At the same time, the report finds that by 2050, the global economy would grow by one per cent and global welfare, including benefits not captured by GDP, such as health benefits from reduced air pollution and reduced climate impacts, among others, would improve by 15 per cent, compared to the current trajectory.

Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050, launched today at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue, also finds that increasing cumulative energy system investment by 30 per cent to 2050 in favour of renewable energy and energy efficiency, can create over 11 million additional energy-sector jobs, completely offsetting job losses in the fossil fuel industry. Immediate action will also reduce the scale and value of stranded energy-related assets in the future. The roadmap currently anticipates up to USD 11 trillion of stranded energy assets by 2050 – a value that could double if action is further delayed.

“Renewable energy and energy efficiency together form the cornerstone of the world’s solution to energy-related CO2 emissions, and can provide over 90 per cent of the energy-related CO2 emission reductions required to keep global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius,” said IRENA Director General Adnan Z. Amin. “If we are to decarbonise global energy fast enough to avoid the most sever impacts of climate change, renewables must account for at least two-thirds of total energy by 2050.

“Transformation will not only support climate objectives, it will support positive social and economic outcomes all over the world, lifting millions out of energy poverty, increasing energy independence and stimulating sustainable job growth,” continued Mr. Amin. “An opportunity exists to ramp up investment in low-carbon technologies, and shift the global development paradigm from one of scarcity, inequality and competition to one of shared prosperity – in our lifetimes. That is an opportunity we must rally behind by adopting strong policies, mobilizing capital and driving innovation across the energy system.”

Current government plans fall short of emission reduction needs. At today’s trajectory, the world would exhaust its energy-related “carbon budget” (CO2) for 2oC in under 20 years, despite continued strong growth in renewable capacity additions. By the end of 2017, global renewable generation capacity increased by 167 GW and reached 2,179 GW worldwide – yearly growth of 8.3 per cent.

However, without an increase in deployment, fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal would continue to dominate the global energy mix by 2050. The roadmap analysis outlines an energy system in which renewables account for up two-thirds of total final energy consumption, and 85 per cent of power generation by 2050 – up from 18 per cent and 25 per cent respectively today.

To achieve this, at least a six-fold acceleration of renewable energy is needed, both through increased electrification of transport and heat, and more direct use of renewables. Electrification, and renewable power are key drivers outlined in the report, with solar and wind capacity leading the energy transformation.

Visit the IRENA website to download Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050

IRENA

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