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Twinning Europe and Asia in Cyberspace

Prof. Melda Kamil Ariadno

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Authors: Prof. Melda Kamil Ariadno and Prof. Anis H Bajrektarevic

While our troposphere is dangerously polluted, one other space – that of intangible world, created by the interconnected technology– follows the same pattern: a cyberspace. Additionally, our cyberspace becomes increasingly brutalised by its rapid monetisation and weaponisation. It mainly occurs through privacy erosion. How to protect effectively individuals and their fundamental human rights, and how to exercise a right for dignity and privacy?

The EU now offers a model legislation to its Member States, and by its transformative power (spill-over) to the similar supranational projects elsewhere (particularly ASEAN, but also the AU, OAS, SCO, SAARC, LAS, etc.), and the rest of  world.

Rules and regulations to protect personal data do not trigger many sympathies.         The corporate world sees it as an unnecessary deterrent; as a limit to their growth – more to pay and less or slower to yield, innovate and expand. Governments would traditionally wish the rules should apply to every societal stakeholder but themselves. And citizenry by large too frequently behave benevolent, nearly careless whether their data is harvested or safeguarded at all.

However, such legislation is needed today more than ever before. The latest round of technological advancements was rapid, global and uneven. No wonder that in the aftermath of the so-called IT-revolutions, our world suffers from technological asymmetries: assertive big corporations and omnipresent mighty governments on one side and ordinary citizenry on the other. Even in the most advanced democracies today – such as the EU, personal autonomy is at the huge risk: Everyday simple, almost trivial, choices such as what to read, which road to take, what to wear, eat, watch or listen are governed (or at least filtered) by algorithms that run deep under the surface of software and devices. Algoritmisation of ‘will’ is so corrosive and deep that users are mostly unaware of the magnitude to which daily data processing rules over their passions, drives and choices.

Clearly, technology of today serves not only a Weberian predictability imperative – to further rationalise society. It makes society less safe and its individuals less free.

Societies are yet to wake up to this (inconvenient) truth. In the internet age of mobile, global and instant communications, people tend to focus more on the ‘here-us-now’ trends: goods, services, and experiences that the IT offers. Individuals are less interested on the ways in which privacy is compromised by software, its originators and devices – all which became an unnoticed but indispensable part of modern life. Despite a wish of many to grasp and know how data processing and harvesting affects them, population at large yet has no appetite for details.

But, the trend is here to stay – a steady erosion of privacy: bigger quantities of data are harvested about larger number of persons on a daily, if not hourly basis. Corporations and the central state authorities want more data and are less shy in how they obtain and use it.

Prevention of the personal information misuse (PIM) —intended or not—is the main reason the European Union (EU)introduced the new set of provisions, as of May 2018. Hence, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – as the legislation is known – is an ambitious attempt to further regulate digital technology, especially in respect to the private data protection. It is of course in conformity with provisions of both the Universal and European Charter of Human Rights, which hold the protection of human dignity and privacy as an indispensable, fundamental human right.

The intention of legislator behind the GDPR is twofold: to regulate domestically as well as to inspire and galvanise internationally. The GDPR is meant to open a new chapter in the Internet’s history at home, while creating, at the same time, a roadmap for other state and corporate sector actors beyond the EU. The challenge is clear: to reconcile the rights of individuals to data protection with the legitimate interests of business and government.

For the rest of the world, the GDPR should be predictive, inspirational and eventually obligational. Lack of acting now could open a space for the abuse of power – be it for illegitimate corporate or authoritarian gains of the hidden societal actors. In such a negative scenario – on a long run – losers are all. Historically, victimisation of individuals (through constant suspension of liberties and freedoms) ends up in a state or corporate fascism, and that one in a self-destruction of society as whole.

COMPREHENSIVE LEGISLATION AS POWERFUL DETERRENT

The Internet age exposes individuals in an unprecedented ways to the domestic or foreign predatory forces. Everybody is tempted to participate in digital economy or digital social interaction. This cannot go without revealing personal information to large state or non-state entities of local or international workings. If the field is not regulated, the moment such information leaves its proprietor, it can be easily and cheaply stored, analysed, further disseminated and shared without any knowledge or consent of it originator.

So far, neither market forces nor the negative publicity has seriously hindered companies and governments from tapping on and abusing this immense power. Nothing but a bold and comprehensive legislation is efficient deterrent, which stops the worst misuse. Only the legal provisions to protect personal data may serve a purpose of special and general prevention:

Be it in case a local or transnational corporate greed, governmental negligent or malicious official, or the clandestine interaction of the two (such as unauthorised access to personal phone and Internet records, as well as the unverified or inaccurate health and related data used to deny person from its insurance, loan, or work).

While totally absent elsewhere, early European attempts to legislate a comprehensive regulatory system of personal data protection have tired its best. Still, the EU’s Data Protection Directive of 1995 was falling short on several deliverables. (It was partly due to early stage of internet development, when the future significance of cyberspace was impossible to fully grasp and anticipate). Hence, this instrument failed to comprehensively identify the wrongdoings it sought to prevent, pre-empt and mitigate. The 1995 text also suffered from a lack of (logical and legal) consistency when it came to directing and instructing the individual EU member states (EU MS) on how to domesticate data privacy and promulgate it the body of their respective national legislation. Finally, the GDPR solves both of these problems.

This instrument of 2018 clearly stipulates on discrimination combating (including the politically or religiously motived hate-contents), authentication-related identity theft, fraud, financial crime, reputational harm (social networks mobbing, harassments and intimidation). Moreover, the European Commission (EC) has stated that the GDPR will strengthen the MS economies by recovering people’s trust in the security and sincerity of digital commerce, which has suffered lately of a numerous high-profile data breaches and infringements.

However, the most important feature (and a legal impact) of the GDPR is its power of being a direct effect law. This means that individuals can invoke it before the MS courts without any reference to the positive national legislation. That guaranties both speed and integrity to this supranational instrument – no vocatioleagis and no unnecessary domestication of the instrument through national constituencies. Conclusively, the 2018 instrument is further strengthened by an extra-territorial reach – a notion that make is applicable to any entity that operates in the EU, even if entity is not physically situated in the EU.

This practically means that each entity, in every sector and of every size, which processes personal data of the EU citizens, must comply with the GDPR. It obliges governments and their services (of national or sub-national levels); health, insurance and bank institutes; variety of Internet and mobile telephony service providers; media outlets and other social data gathering enterprises; labour, educational and recreational entities – in short, any subject that collects digital information about individuals.

The GDPR further strengthens accountability principle. The state and commercial actors hold direct and objective responsibility for a personal data collecting, storing and processing (including its drain or dissemination). Clearly, this EU instrument strengthens the right for information privacy (as a part of elementary human right – right to privacy) by protecting individuals from misappropriation of their personal data fora harvesting, monetisation or (socio-political) weaponisation purpose.

Namely, the GDPR gives individuals the right to request a transfer of their personal data (account and history information)from one commercial entity to another (e.g. from one bank or phone provider to another). Another right is to request – at short notice and for an unspecified reason – the commercial enterprise to stop both the data collection and the marketing dissemination, or to demand clarification on a marketing methods and nature of services provided. This instrument also offers individuals the right to request that their personal data are deleted (being zipped and sent back to its proprietor beforehand) – as stipulated in art.17 (the right to be forgotten).

The GDPR calls upon all operating entities to hire a data protection officer as to ensure full compliance with the new rules. It also invites all data collecting entities to conduct impact assessments – in order to determine scope frequency, outreach and consequences of personal data harvesting and processing. (For example, if certain entity wished to introduce biometric authentication for its employees and visitors entering daily its premises, it would need at first to run an assessment – a study that answers on the necessity and impact of that new system as well as the exposures it creates and possible risk mitigation measures.)

The GDPR obliges every entity that gathers data to minimise amount and configuration of personal data they harvest, while maximizing the security of that data. (For instance, if the auto dealer or travel agency requires potential customers to fill out the form to request a price quote, the form can ask only for information relevant to the product or services in question.)

The new legislation also mandates data gathering entities to notify the authorities – without any delay – whenever they suspect or witness a personal data breach. Conclusively, the GDPR obliges entities to present the public with clean and through information about the personal data they harvest and process—and clearly why they do so.

On the sanction side, the GDPR supports the regulators with new enforcement tools, including the norm setting, monitoring of and enforcement of compliance. For a non-compliance, the instrument prescribes steep fines.

To answer adequately the accountability standards enacted by this EU legislation will certainly invite large data gathering entities to bear significant investments. However, for the sake of credibility outreach and efficiency, they will have stimuli to introduce the new procedures and systems within the EU, but also beyond – wherever their operations are present. Complementary to it, the GDPR stipulates that if an entity transfers personal data out of the EU, it must safeguard that the data is handled in the new location the same way like within the EU. By this simple but far-reaching and effective spill over notion, the standards embodied by the GDPR will be delivered to the rest of the world. Hence, this instrument is not (only) an inner code of conduct that brings an outer appeal; it is a self-evolving and self-replicating standard of behaviour for our common (digital) future.

ASEAN, INDO-PACIFIC, ASIA

It is obvious that the stipulations of the GDPR would serve well interests of Republic of Indonesia (RI). That is actually in line with a very spirit of the 1945 Constitution, which obliges the state to protect, educate and prosper the Indonesian people. This supreme state act clearly proclaims that the respecting individual personal data is resting upon the two principles of the Pancasila. Namely these of; Fair and Civilized Humanity. Mutual grant and observance of everyone’s elementary rights is an essence of freedom and overall advancement of society.

The government, with the mandate of its authority to protect the public (public trust doctrine), must manage the personal data fairly and accountably. The GDPR also encourages the formation of an independent personal data protection supervisory institution so that it can correct the policies and rules of the bureaucracy and state administration to act accordingly in managing the personal data of the population. Moreover, every democratic government should be more proactive in protecting society when comes to the management of the personal data of its residents.

Interestingly, the Indonesian legislation already has instruments that follow notion of the GDPR. Thus, the Law No. 11 on Information and Electronic Transactions of 2008 (by a letter of its article 2) emphasizes the principle of extra-territorial jurisdiction. (In this particular case, it is related to the cross-border transactions. Indonesia should always safeguard its national interests: the RI jurisdiction stretches on any legal action that apply in Indonesia and/or carried out by Indonesian citizens. But it also applies to legal actions carried out outside of Indonesian jurisdiction by Indonesian citizens or a foreigner legally residing in RI, or Indonesian legal entities and foreign legal entities that produce legal effects in Indonesia.

This of course assumes the very nature of a use of Information Technology for Electronic Information and Electronic Transactions, which can be cross-territorial and even universal. What is assumed by this Law as “harming the interests of Indonesia” goers beyond pure national economic interests, protecting strategic data, national dignity, defense and security, the state of sovereignty, citizens, and Indonesian legal entities.)

When comes to the Right to be Forgotten (Right for Privacy and Right for Dignity), Indonesia must see it as a principle of real protection that is in the best interests of data owners. Further on, such a right should be strengthened by the principle of ‘without undue delay’, as to avoid the administrative obligation to request a court decision to uphold the right. On a long run, it will surely benefit businesses far more than the personal data originators themselves.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

In line with the Right to Portability Data elaborated by the GDPR, Indonesia also needs to closer examine the EU instruments. Hence, the EU Regulation No.910 / 2014 concerning electronic identification, authentication and trust services (eIDAS) offers an idea how to harmonize the provision of digital identity and personal data in realm of electronic communications.(Electronic identification and authentication is a technology process that has an economic value. Such a business opportunity should be reconciled with a safety and security standards when comes to use of and traffic with of personal data for commercial interests.)

Regarding security, Indonesia must immediately have a clear policy on Cryptography to protect personal data. Cryptography is a double-use process; it can be utilised for civilian purposes, but it can also be used for the vital national interests, such as defense and security. Therefore, privacy and cybersecurity protection is a complementary concept of protection. Holistic approach strengthens the both rights of individuals as well as protection of national interests, rather than it ever conflicts one over the other.

Finally, the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights in its article 21 stipulates that the protection of personal data is elementary part of Privacy. As one of the founding members, a country that even hosts the Organisation’s HQ, Indonesia must observe the notions of this Human Rights Charter. That is the additional reason why RI has to lead by example.

The EU’s GDPR clearly encourages a paradigm shift within the public services and government administration services on national, subnational and supranational level for all the ASEAN member states. It is to respect the fundamental freedoms and liberties, a quality that will shield population from random and ill-motivated arbitrary judgments of individual rights under the pretext of public interest.

Indonesia and ASEAN can take a lot of learning from the dynamics of the EU’s regulation of GDPR and e-IDAS as to its own benefit – to foster its own security and to elevate a trust in regional e-commerce within the ASEAN economic zone. Since the ASEAN (if combined) is the 4th largest world economy, this is a call of future that already starts now. After all the EU and ASEAN – each from its side of Eurasia – are twin grand projects of necessity, passion and vision.

Naturally, for anyone outside, Indonesia and ASEAN are already seen as the world’s e-commerce hub, of pivotal importance far beyond the Asia-Pacific theatre.

Prof. Melda Kamil Ariadno (SH, LLM, PhD) is a Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law Universitas Indonesia, Jakarta. She is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Law Universitas Indonesia and the Head of Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Universitas Indonesia in 1992. Then, she received both her LL.M. and Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1995 and 2011, respectively. She has served as legal expert for several governmental bodies among others the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

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Central Banks Becoming Leaders in Blockchain Experimentation

MD Staff

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Although central banks are among the most cautious institutions in the world, they are, perhaps surprisingly, among the first to implement and experiment with blockchain technology. Central banks have been quietly researching its possibilities since 2014. Over the past two years, the beginning of a new wave has emerged as more central banks launch large-scale pilots and research efforts, including rapid and complete cross-border interbank securities.

The Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology team at the World Economic Forum interviewed dozens of central bank researchers and analysed more than 60 reports on past and current research efforts. The findings were released today in a white paper, Central Banks and Distributed Ledger Technology: How are Central Banks Exploring Blockchain Today?

“As the blockchain hype cools, we are starting to see the real use cases for blockchain technology take the spotlight,” said Ashley Lannquist, Blockchain Project Lead at the World Economic Forum. “Central bank activities with blockchain and distributed ledger technology are not always well known or communicated. As a result, there is much speculation and misunderstanding about objectives and the state of research. Dozens of central banks around the world are actively investigating whether blockchain can help solve long-standing challenges such as banking and payments system efficiency, payments security and resilience, as well as financial inclusion.”

It is not widely known, for instance, that the Bank of France has fully replaced its centralized process for the provisioning and sharing of SEPA Credit Identifiers (SCIs) with a decentralized, blockchain-based solution. SEPA, or Single Euro Payments Area, is a payment scheme created by the European Union and managed on a country-by-country basis for facilitating efficient and secure cross-border retail debit and card payments across European countries. The solution is a private deployment of the Ethereum blockchain network and has been in use since December 2017. It has enabled greater time efficiency, process auditability and disaster recovery.

The fact that dozens of central banks are exploring, and in some cases implementing, blockchain technology is significant, according to the white paper. It is an early indicator of the potential use of this emerging technology across financial and monetary systems. “Central banks play one of the most critical roles in the global economy, and their decisions about implementing distributed ledger and digital currency technologies in the future can have far-reaching implications for economies,” Lannquist said.

Top 10 central bank use cases

Following interviews and analysis, how central banks are experimenting with blockchain can be highlighted by 10 top use cases.

Retail central bank digital currency (CBDC) –
A substitute or complement for cash and an alternative to traditional bank deposits. A central-bank-issued digital currency can be operated and settled in a peer-to-peer and decentralized manner, widely available for consumer use. Central banks from several countries are experimenting, including those from the the Eastern Caribbean, Sweden, Uruguay, the Bahamas and Cambodia.

Wholesale central bank digital currency (CBDC) – This kind of digital currency would only be available for commercial banks and clearing houses to use the wholesale interbank market.Central bank-issued digital currency would be operated and settled in a peer-to-peer and decentralized manner. Central banks from several countries are experimenting, including those from South Africa, Canada, Japan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Cambodia.

Interbank securities settlement – A focused application of blockchain technology, sometimes involving CBDC, enabling the rapid interbank clearing and settlement of securities for cash. This can achieve “delivery versus payment” interbank systems where two parties trading an asset, such as a security for cash, can conduct the payment for and delivery of the asset simultaneously. Central banks exploring this include the Bank of Japan, Monetary Authority of Singapore, Bank of England and Bank of Canada.

Payment system resiliency and contingency – The use of distributed ledger technology in a primary or back-up domestic interbank payment and settlement system to provide safety and continuity in case of threats, including technical or network failure, natural disaster, cybercrime and others. Often, this use case is coupled with others as part of the set of benefits that a distributed ledger technology implementation could potentially offer. Central banks exploring this include the Central Bank of Brazil and Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.

Bond issuance and lifecycle management – The use of distributed ledger technology in the bond auction, issuance or other life-cycle processes to reduce costs and increase efficiency. This may be applied to bonds issued and managed by sovereign states, international organizations or government agencies. Central banks or government regulators could be “observer nodes” to monitor activity where relevant. Early implementation is being conducted by the World Bank with their 2018 “bond-i” project.

Know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering (AML) – Digital KYC/AML processes that leverage distributed ledger technology to track and share relevant customer payment and identity information to streamline processes. This may connect to a digital national identity platform or plug into pre-existing e-KYC or AML systems. Central banks exploring this include the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

Information exchange and data sharing – The use of distributed or decentralized databases to create alternative systems for information and data sharing between or within related government or private sector institutions. Central banks exploring include the Central Bank of Brazil.

Trade finance – The employment of a decentralized database and functionality to enable faster, more efficient and more inclusive trade financing. Improves on today’s trade finance processes, which are often paper-based, labour-intensive and time-intensive. Customer information and transaction histories are shared between participants in the decentralized database while maintaining privacy and confidentiality where needed. Central banks exploring this include the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

Cash money supply chain – The use of distributed ledger technology for issuing, tracking and managing the delivery and movement of cash from production facilities to the central bank and commercial bank branches; could include the ordering, depositing or movement of funds, and could simplify regulatory reporting. Central banks exploring this include the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.

Customer SEPA Creditor Identifier (SCI) provisioning – Blockchain-based decentralized sharing repository for SEPA credit identifiers managed by the central bank and commercial banks in the SEPA debiting scheme. This is a faster, streamlined and decentralized system for identity provisioning and sharing. It can replace pre-existing manual and centralized processes that are time- and resource-intensive, as seen in the Bank of France’s Project MADRE implementation.

Emerging economies may benefit most: Cambodia, Thailand and South Africa and others experimenting

The National Bank of Cambodia will be one of the first countries to deploy blockchain technology in its national payments system for use by consumers and commercial banks. It is implementing blockchain technology in the second half of 2019 as an experiment to support financial inclusion and greater banking system efficiency.

The Bank of Thailand and the South African Reserve Bank, among others, are experimenting with CBDC in large-scale pilots for interbank payment and settlement efficiency. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank is exploring the suitability of distributed ledger technology (DLT) to advance multiple goals, from financial inclusion and payments efficiency to payment system resilience against storms and hurricanes.

“Over the next four years, we should expect to see many central banks decide whether they will use blockchain and distributed ledger technologies to improve their processes and economic welfare,” Lannquist said. “Given the systemic importance of central bank processes, and the relative freshness of blockchain technology, banks must carefully consider all known and unknown risks to implementation.”

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How Nuclear Techniques Help Feed China

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With 19% of the world’s population but only 7% of its arable land, China is in a bind: how to feed its growing and increasingly affluent population while protecting its natural resources. The country’s agricultural scientists have made growing use of nuclear and isotopic techniques in crop production over the last decades. In cooperation with the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), they are now helping experts from Asia and beyond in the development of new crop varieties, using irradiation.

While in many countries, nuclear research in agriculture is carried out by nuclear agencies that work independently from the country’s agriculture research establishment, in China the use of nuclear techniques in agriculture is integrated into the work of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and provincial academies of agricultural sciences. This ensures that the findings are put to use immediately.

And indeed, the second most widely used wheat mutant variety in China, Luyuan 502, was developed by CAAS’s Institute of Crop Sciences and the Institute of Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, using space-induced mutation breeding (see Space-induced mutation breeding). It has a yield that is 11% higher than the traditional variety and is also more tolerant to drought and main diseases, said Luxiang Liu, Deputy Director General of the Institute. It has been planted on over 3.6 million hectares – almost as large as Switzerland. It is one of 11 wheat varieties developed for improved salt and drought tolerance, grain quality and yield, Mr Liu said.

Through close cooperation with the IAEA and FAO, China has released over 1,000 mutant crop varieties in the past 60 years, and varieties developed in China account for a fourth of mutants listed currently in the IAEA/FAO’s database of mutant varieties produced worldwide, said Sobhana Sivasankar, Head of the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. The new mutation induction and high-throughput mutant selection approaches established at the Institute serve as a model to researchers from around the world, she added.

The Institute uses heavy ion beam accelerators, cosmic rays and gamma rays along with chemicals to induce mutations in a wide variety of crops, including wheat, rice, maize, soybean and vegetables. “Nuclear techniques are at the heart of our work, fully integrated into the development of plant varieties for the improvement of food security,” Liu said.

The Institute has also become a key contributor to the IAEA technical cooperation programme over the years: more than 150 plant breeders from over 30 countries have participated in training courses and benefited from fellowships at CAAS. 

Indonesia’s nuclear agency, BATAN, and CAAS are looking for ways to collaborate on plant mutation breeding and Indonesian researchers are looking for ways to learn from China’s experience, said Totti Tjiptosumirat, Head of BATAN’s Center for Isotopes and Radiation Application. “Active dissemination and promotion of China’s activities in plant mutation breeding would benefit agricultural research across Asia,” he said.

From food safety to authenticity

Several of CAAS’ other institutes use nuclear-related and isotopic techniques in their research and development work and participate in several IAEA technical cooperation and coordinated research projects. The Institute of Quality Standards and Testing Technology for Agro-Products has developed a protocol to detect fake honey, using isotopic analysis. A large amount of what is sold in China as honey is estimated to be produced synthetically in labs rather than by bees in hives, so this has been an important tool in cracking down on fraudsters, said Professor Chen Gang, who leads the research work using isotopic techniques at the Institute. A programme is also in place to trace the geographical origin of beef using stable isotopes, he added.

The Institute uses isotopic techniques to test the safety and to verify the authenticity of milk and dairy products – work that was the outcome of IAEA technical coordinated research and cooperation projects that lasted from 2013 to 2018. “After a few years of support, we are now fully self-sufficient,” Mr Gang said.

Improving nutrition efficiency

Various CAAS institutes use stable isotopes to study the absorption, transfer and metabolism of nutrients in animals. The results are used to optimize feed composition and feeding schedules. Isotope tracing offers higher sensitivity than conventional analytical methods, and this is particularly advantageous when studying the absorption of micronutrients, vitamins, hormones and drugs, said Dengpan Bu, Professor at the Institute of Animal Science.

While China has perfected the use of many nuclear techniques, in several areas it is looking to the IAEA and the FAO for support: the country’s dairy industry is dogged by the low protein absorption rate of dairy cows. Less than half of the protein in animal feed is used by the ruminants, the rest ends up in their manure and urine. “This is wasteful for the farmer and the high nitrogen content in the manure hurts the environment,” Mr Bu said. The use of isotopes to trace nitrogen as it travels from feed through the animal’s body would help improve nitrogen efficiency by making the necessary adjustments to the composition of the feed. This will be particularly important as dairy consumption, currently at a third of global average per person, continues to rise. “We are looking for international expertise, through the IAEA and the FAO, to help us tackle this problem.”

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When neuroscience meets AI: What does the future of learning look like?

MD Staff

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Photo: MGIEP

Meet Dr. Nandini Chatterjee Singh, a cognitive neuroscientist at UNESCO MGIEP (Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development) where she has been leading the development of a new framework for socio-emotional learning. MGIEP focuses on mainstreaming socio-emotional learning in education systems and innovating digital pedagogies.

Dr. Singh answered five questions on the convergence of neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence in learning, ahead of the International Congress on Cognitive Science in Schools where she will be speaking this week.

What are the links between neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence when it comes to learning?

The focus of both neuroscience and AI is to understand how the brain works and thus predict behaviour. And the better we understand the brain, the better designs we can create for AI algorithms. When it comes to learning, the neuroscience – AI partnership can be synergistic. A good understanding of a particular learning process by neuroscience can be used to inform the design of that process for AI. Similarly, if AI can find patterns from large data sets and get a learning model, neuroscience can conduct experiments to confirm it. 

Secondly, when neuroscience provides learning behaviours to AI, these behaviours can be translated into digital interactions, which in turn are used by AI to look at learning patterns across large numbers of children worldwide. The power of AI is that it can scale this to large numbers. AI can track and search through massive amounts of data to see how that learning happens, and when required, identify when learning is different or goes off track.

A third  feature is that of individualized learning.  We increasingly also know that learning has a strong individual component. Yet our classrooms are structured to provide common learning to all children. Sometimes these individual differences become crucial to bring out the best in children, which is when we might tailor learning.  Neuroscience research on individual differences has shown that detailed information on that individual can reveal a wealth of information about their learning patterns. However, this is extremely cost and labour intensive. Yet, this detailed learning from neuroscience can be provided to AI in order to scale. AI can collect extensive detailed data at the personal level, to design a path to learning for that child. Thus, what neuroscience can study in small groups, AI can implement in large populations. If we are to ensure a world where every child achieves full potential, such personalized learning offers a great promise.

How do we create a structure around AI to ensure learning standards globally?

One thing AI capitalizes on and constantly relies on is large volumes of data. AI algorithms perform better if they are being fed by continuous distributed data. We need to keep in mind that humans are the ones designing these algorithms. This means that the algorithms will only do as well as the data that they have been trained on. Ensuring that we have access to large amounts of data that comes from various situations of learning is crucial. What sometimes becomes an issue for AI algorithms is that most of the training data has been selected from one particular kind of population. This means that the diversity in the forms of learning is missing from the system.

To return to reading and literacy as an example, in neuroscience, a large part of our research and understanding of how the brain learns to read has come from individuals learning to read English and alphabetic languages. However, globally, billions of people speak or read non-alphabetic languages and scripts that are visually complex, which are not really reflected in this research. Our understanding is built on one particular system that does not have enough diversity.

Therefore, it is important that AI algorithms be tested in varied environments around the world where there are differences in culture. This will create more robust learning models that are able to meet diverse learning requirements and cater to every kind of learner from across the world. If we are able to do that, then we can predict what the learning trajectory will look like for children anywhere.

Human beings have similarities in the way they learn, but pedagogies vary across different situations. In addition, those differences must be reflected in the data provided. The results would be much more pertinent if we are able to capture and reflect those differences in the data. This will help us improve the learning of AI, and ultimately understand how the brain works. We would then be better suited to leverage the universal principles of learning that are being used across the world and effects that are cultural in nature. That is also something that we want to hold on to and capitalize on in trying to help children. People designing AI algorithms so far have not given a lot of attention to this, but they are now beginning to consider it in many places across the world.

How do you see AI’s role in inclusive education today, especially in the context of migration?

Societies have become multicultural in nature. If you go to a typical classroom in many countries, you will find children from diverse cultures sitting in the same learning space. Learning has to be able to meet a variety of needs and must become more inclusive and reflect cultural diversity. Innovative pedagogy such as games, interactive sessions and real-life situations are key because they test learning capabilities focused on skills that children should acquire.  AI relies on digital interactions to understand learning and that comes from assessing skills and behaviours. We now recognize that what we need to empower our children with are skills and behaviours – not necessarily tons of information.

Digital pedagogies like interactive games are among the ones emerging rapidly to assess children’s skills. They are powerful because they can be used in multicultural environments and can assess different competencies. They are not necessarily tied to a specific language or curricula but are rather performance-based. How do you assess children for collaboration in a classroom? In the context of migration and 21st century skills, these are necessary abilities and digital games provide a medium to assess these in education. When such interactive games are played by children across the world, they provide digital interactions to AI. AI might discover new patterns and ways to collaborate since children have ways of doing things that are often out of the box. A skills-based approach can be applied anywhere, whether it is in a classroom in India, France or Kenya. In contrast, curriculum-based methods are context-specific and show extensive cultural variation.

What are the risks and the challenges?

Data protection and security is of course still a huge issue and is the biggest challenge in this sphere. We have to ensure that children are never at risk of exposure and that the data is not misused in any way. This is something that needs more global attention and backing.

Another crucial point is that learning assessments should not be restricted to just one domain. There are multiple ways, and time and space to learn. Learning is continuous in nature and should be able to be adapted to the child’s needs at that particular point. The assessment should also be continuous in order to get a full picture of the improvement that the child is demonstrating. If there is no improvement, then we can provide interventions to help and find out why learning is not happening. From what we know from neuroscience, the earlier you can provide intervention, the better is the chance of the child to be able to change and adapt. The ability of the brain to learn and change is much easier and faster in childhood compared to adulthood.

Yet, we want to be cautious about the conclusions we draw about how to intervene with children. Poor academic performance might have a social or emotional reason.

Thus, learning today needs to be multi-dimensional.  Along with academic competencies, social and emotional skills also need to be assessed.  If this information is used wisely, it can provide a lot of insight about the child’s academic and emotional well-being. Based on the combination of the two, the right intervention can be provided. Unless multiple assessments all converge on the same result, the child’s learning abilities should not be labeled. AI gives a great opportunity to conduct multi-skills assessments, rather than just one. And that is something that we should leverage, rather than abandon. The standards for the baselines for the algorithms must be properly taken into consideration for any type of assessment. They must come from a large quantity of distributed data in order to provide more accurate results. That is something that we should not compromise under any condition.

How is the teaching community responding to this new way of learning and assessing?

There are teachers who worry about the future of learning but that is also because they do not necessarily have the full picture. People working and promoting the use of AI in learning must play a crucial role in telling teachers that they will not be obsolete. Teachers will be more empowered and be able to meet the needs of every kind of learner in their classrooms. The ideal world would be to have one teacher per child but that is of course impossible. AI is a tool to guide teachers when it comes to finding the right intervention for a student that might be struggling to learn. That intervention comes from data that has been checked for bias and diversity and does not use ‘a one size fits all ‘approach and therefore teachers can be more certain that it will fit the needs of the child. AI gives the opportunity for the teacher to tailor learning for the child. In addition, we do not really know all the different kinds of learning. Sometimes we have to be prepared to learn from children themselves. Children can give us insights into the different ways that learning actually happens, and teachers should be able apply them back into the classroom. Teachers are extremely powerful individuals who are able to shape the brains of so many children. If they are doing a good job, they are making individuals for life.    

UNESCO

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