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UNESCO promotes Internet Universality indicators to advance SDGs at WSIS Forum 2018

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Panelists shared their feedback on the first Internet universality indicators.© UNESCO

Building on the vibrant consultation that UNESCO conducted on defining the Internet Universality Indicators at the WSIS Forum in 2017, UNESCO hosted a high-level session on Promoting Internet Universality Indicators as a comprehensive tool for achieving the SDGs during the WSIS Forum 2018.  In the session, UNESCO presented the first draft Internet universality indicators, a comprehensive tool to help states and stakeholders to measure Internet policies in support of achieving the SDGs at the national level that can serve as a recognized and authoritative global research tool for stakeholders to assess Internet development in their countries.

“Implementing the Internet Universality indicators is crucial as it will help all stakeholders understand the state of their national Internet environment, and therefore support the development of concrete policy guidelines” underlined Getachew Engida, Deputy Director General of UNESCO, at the opening of the session.  The session, moderated by Boyan Radoykov, Chief of the Section for Universal Access and Preservation at UNESCO, attracted more than 100 participants.

“The application of the indicators will be an important step towards Internet development and policy improvements” underlined Getachew Engida, Deputy Director General of UNESCO at the opening of the session.  The initiative to develop the Internet universality indicators, supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the Internet Society (ISOC), was jointly presented by Xianhong Hu (UNESCO) and Anri van der Spuy, representing the Association for Progressive Communications Consortium commissioned by UNESCO to conduct the research on defining Internet Universality indicators.

During the high-level session, a panel of eight speakers provided their feedback on the first Internet Universality indicators. Participants discussed all six categories of indicators developed in light of UNESCO’s internet universality framework and ROAMX principles, based on the principle that the Internet should be Rights-based, Open, Accessible, Multi-stakeholder and take into account crosscutting themes including gender equality and youth.

“The Internet universality indicators project is a useful initiative to assist the international community and national policy makers to tackle the legal, ethical and societal challenges of the information society” underlined Chafica Haddad, the Chair of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Information for All Programme (IFAP). She stressed that IFAP would serve as a platform to debate and implement Internet universality indicators in Member States and assist national counterparts  in formulating policies aimed at bridging the digital divide and ensuring equitable knowledge societies.  Providing an overview of IFAP priorities including information literacy and information ethics and the work of the programme in addressing emerging issues such as the dark net and deep web, Haddad emphasized that “information literacy empowers people in all ways of life.”

“Human rights should equally apply online and offline; an Internet that fails to uphold human rights is incompatible with the SDGs” stressed Thomas Schneider, Vice-Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications.  “The concept of internet universality is very valuable because it promotes features of the internet that are fundamental to it fulfilling its potential for sustainable development,” he further stressed. When discussing the Access and Multi-stakeholder participation indicators part of the Internet universality indicators, Schneider underlined that “access to the Internet should be equal, non-discriminatory and affordable to all citizens.  Multi-stakeholder cooperation is essential if you want to create an Internet Society with a human dimension.”  Rati Skhirtladze, from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), equally insisted on the affordability of ICT services as an enabler of Internet universality, and suggested, on behalf of the ITU, using ICT Price baskets as a measure of affordability.

On crosscutting indicators, Dorothy Gordon, the UNESCO IFAP Chair on Information Literacy, stressed that the Internet universality indicators “have the potential to be really transformational” and will help address the gender gap in Internet use and access and boost the development of Knowledge and Information Societies.  Gordon further stressed the importance of the open consultation process, mobilizing not only Government but also civil society and the private sector to provide feedback on the process.  She further suggested that UNESCO develop an interactive platform online to ensure stakeholder feedback at the national level on the use of the indicators and possible adaptations to national contexts.  “It will be crucial that UNESCO ensures resources to build a platform that will allow stakeholders to share how they implement indicators in individual countries” underlined Gordon concerning the implementation of the project at the national level.

Alison Gillwald, Executive director of Research ICT Africa, underlined the challenge, in the framework of the applications of the indicators at the national level, to maintain common values related to human rights while working in national contexts where rights cannot be assumed. “Indexes that assume we should have online rights when we don’t have offline rights can pose a challenge” Gillwald underlined, stressing the importance of acknowledging that the underlying human development issues, including education, that underpin persistent gaps including with regards to gender equality, must also be addressed in tandem.  Ramiz Uddin, Head of Results Management and Data in Bangladesh’s a2i, reflected on the use of the indicators based on the experience in Bangladesh in ensuring openness in education and added that it is important to keep a manageable number of indicators so interested stakeholders can use them effectively.

“This project is very relevant for the future of the Internet. It embraces very complex issues, but we are in a complex time. In the Internet space, complexity is our strength but also our challenge,” stated Raquel Gatto, representative of the Internet Society (ISOC).  Gatto further underlined the possibility of the indicators to help empower communities to shape their own future through collaborative, inclusive, transparent, and multi-stakeholder analysis.

Towards the end of 2018 and following further multi-stakeholder consultation, UNESCO will finalize the Internet universality indicators. Pilots and pre-tests will be undertaken in several countries in order to provide insights on the applicability of the indicators in various national contexts. The final Internet universality indicators will then be submitted to UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) Council Meeting for endorsement in November 2018.

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The future of Artificial Intelligence in Africa: A joint responsibility

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Africa and universal access to information and knowledge were at the heart of discussions during the UNESCO Forum on Artificial Intelligence in Africa that took place at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, in Benguerir, Morocco, on 12 and 13 December 2018.

The two-day Forum was opened by UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay, Morocco’s Education Minister Saaid Amzazi and the President of the General Conference of UNESCO, Zohour Alaoui. It brought together ministers, representatives of the private sector, experts, researchers and representatives of international and regional organizations, as well as NGOs and civil society actors from all parts of the world. Through round tables and thematic sessions, the conference examined the future of Artificial Intelligence in Africa, ethical issues for the continent, and ways in which AI can serve as a lever for sustainable development.

Artificial Intelligence is not only relevant to developed countries, but also important for developing countries, including in Africa. While the African continent sees a number of innovative uses of Artificial Intelligence, more can be done to guarantee access to information and knowledge through AI.

Countries in Africa face specific challenges in terms of infrastructure, skills, knowledge gaps, research capacities and availability of local data, which need to be overcome to fully harness the deployment of AI. To avoid exacerbating the existing digital and knowledge divides, it is essential to address these challenges and to raise awareness of the potential of AI for sustainable development.

Harnessing the potential of AI for Africa

The panel discussion on universal access to information and knowledge, and AI in Africa, moderated by UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Moez Chakchouk, highlighted the efforts of governments and various stakeholders to fully harness the potential of AI.

Morocco underlined that its digital strategy takes AI into account, and the country has enhanced data access through the launch of an open data portal. Ruhiya Seward from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) presented how the centre has been actively supporting North-South cooperation in the mapping of AI ecosystems, as well as the promotion and establishment of regional networks in this regard.

Discussions also highlighted how the UNESCO Chair in Artificial Intelligence and the Knowledge for All (K4All) Foundation are carrying out a mapping of Artificial Intelligence start-ups, research centres and civil society organizations. Microsoft equally underlined how the company provides support to AI strategic plans for a range of countries, while also building capacities for start-ups through its 4Afrika AppFactory, which develops the digital skills, coding capabilities and workplace readiness of young people.

An inclusive approach for the development of AI

Panellists emphasized the importance of involving young people and innovative local AI start-up ecosystems to ensure access to information and knowledge. Davor Orlic from the Jožef Stefan Institute stated that Africa is not lagging behind, and that the continent would gain a lot from listening to its local AI ecosystem. Local start-ups can serve as incubators for skills development and business modelling to ensure AI entrepreneurship solves local development issues in innovative and efficient ways, with a particular focus on youth and women.

Nicolas Miailhe of the Future Society further underlined the importance of ensuring multi-stakeholder consultation processes, including through online platforms, to ensure the participatory development of public policies on AI.

Finally, in interacting with the audience, panellists also discussed the dangers of AI in encroaching on human rights issues such as privacy. Julie Owono, Executive Director of Internet Sans Frontières, underlined that “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be the reference framework for all aspects related to Artificial Intelligence, and more generally to all aspects associated with the Internet.”

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Our Shared Digital Future

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Building a digital economy and society that is trusted, inclusive and sustainable requires urgent attention in six priority areas according to a new report, Our Shared Digital Future, published by the World Economic Forum today.

The report represents a collaborative effort by business, government and civil society leaders, experts and practitioners. It follows an 18-month dialogue aimed at restoring the internet’s capacity for delivering positive social and economic development.

The report comes at a historic moment on the day when, for the first time, more than one-half of the world’s population is now connected to the internet. At the same time, less than one-half of those already online trust that technology will make their lives better.

With 60% of the global economy forecast to be digitized by 2022, there remains huge potential for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to lift more people out of poverty and strengthen societies and communities. However, success depends on effective collaboration between all stakeholder groups. The authors, in addition to unveiling six key areas for action, also highlight several existing efforts at global and local levels where collaboration is helping to restore trust and deliver broad-based societal benefits.

The six priority areas for multistakeholder collaboration are:

Internet access and adoption

Internet access growth has slowed from 19% in 2007 to 6% in 2017. At the same time, we have reached the milestone of 50% of the world’s population being connected to the internet. To close the digital divide, more investment is needed to not only provide access, but also improve adoption.

Good digital identity

By 2020, the average internet user will have more than 200 online accounts and by 2022, 150 million people are forecast to have blockchain-based digital identities. However, 1 billion people currently lack a formal identity, which excludes them from the growing digital economy. Good digital identity solutions are key to addressing this divide, empowering individuals, and protecting their rights in society.

Positive impact on society

By 2022, an estimated 60% of global GDP will be digitized. In 2018, companies are expected to spend more than $1.2 trillion on digital transformation efforts. Yet, only 45% of the world’s population feel that technology will improve their lives. Companies need to navigate digital disruption and develop new responsible business models and practices.

Cybersecurity

Cyberattacks result in annual losses of up to $400 billion to the global economy. More than 4.5 billion records were compromised by malicious actors in the first half of 2018, up from 2.7 billion records for the whole of 2017. A safe and secure digital environment requires global norms and practices to mitigate cyber-risks.

Governance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Policy-makers and traditional governance models are being challenged by the sheer magnitude and speed of the technological changes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Developing new and participatory governance mechanisms to complement traditional policy and regulation is essential to ensure widespread benefits, close the digital divide and address the global nature of these developments.

Data

The amount of data that keeps the digital economy flowing is growing exponentially. By 2020, there will be more than 20 billion connected devices globally. Yet there is no consensus on whether data is a type of new currency for companies to trade or a common public good that needs stricter rules and protection. The digital economy and society must bridge this gap by developing innovations that allow society to benefit from data while protecting privacy, innovation and criminal justice.

“The digital environment is like our natural environment,” said Derek O’Halloran, Head, Future of Digital Economy and Society, the World Economic Forum. “We all – governments, businesses, individuals – have a duty to ensure it remains clean, safe and healthy. This paper marks a step forward in offering a blueprint for a better internet we can all work towards: One that is inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable.”

The report is part of ongoing work by the World Economic Forum to provide a platform to accelerate, amplify or catalyse collaborative efforts from business, government, academia and civil society to advance progress towards an inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable digital economy. The report provides an overview of key issues for the digital economy and society, establishes priorities for multistakeholder collaboration for the year ahead, and highlights existing key initiatives and resources.

“Our existing institutions, mechanisms and models are struggling to effectively respond to the pace of digital change and its distributed nature. This report identifies critical areas of focus for public-private partnerships to help restore trust in an inclusive and prosperous digital future,” said Jim Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Thomson Reuters and Co-Chair, World Economic Forum System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and Society.

“While recognizing that digital developments fuel many opportunities in political, commercial and social spheres, a key point of this paper is the need to focus on inclusion and addressing digital divides; only through incorporating more voices and views – in the development of political and commercial policies – will we be able to create a society that truly benefits all,” said Lynn St. Amour, Chair of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF)’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group, and Co-Chair, World Economic Forum System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and Society.

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Internet milestone reached: More than 50 per cent go online

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For the first time, more than half of the world’s population of nearly 8 billion will be using the internet by the end of 2018, the United Nations telecommunications agency announced on Friday.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) global and regional estimates for 2018 are “a pointer to the great strides the world is making towards building a more inclusive global information society,” Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, said.

The record figure of 3.9 billion people, or 51.2 per cent that will be online by the end of December, is an important milestone in the digital revolution, according to the ITU. The agency insists that this increased connectivity will help promote sustainable development everywhere.

The latest figures also spotlight Africa, which shows the strongest rate of growth in internet access, from around two per cent in 2005, to more than 24 per cent of the African population this year.

Europe and the Americas are the regions with the slowest growth rates, though the current figures show that 79.6 per cent and 69.6 per cent are online, respectively.

Overall, said the ITU, “in developed countries, slow and steady growth increased the percentage of population using the Internet, from 51.3 per cent in 2005 to 80.9 per cent in 2018.”

Despite this progress, ITU has warned that a lot of communities worldwide, still do not use the internet, particularly women and girls. The statistics show older people also disproportionately remain offline, as do those with disabilities, indigenous populations and some people living in the world’s poorest places.

In a bid to reduce inequalities, the agency is calling on more infrastructure investment from the public and private sectors, and to focus on ensuring that access remains affordable for all.

“We must encourage more investment from the public and private sectors and create a good environment to attract investments, and support technology and business innovation so that the digital revolution leaves no one offline,” said Mr. Zhao.

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