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Artificial intelligence 2021: Sacrificing security for freedom?

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The current COVID-19 pandemic has spurred the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) into all spheres of human life. Faced with the urgent need for new algorithms, various government agencies and private companies have often introduced half-baked AI technologies, refining them as they go. The year 2021 will obviously increase the AI’s role in society and will significantly change the people’s lifestyles and the work of various institutions.

First off, let us figure out what the term “artificial intelligence” really means.  In a nutshell, it is the ability of a digital computer or a computer-controlled robot to perform tasks usually associated with intelligent beings. However, in philosophy and science fiction, AI is often referred to as a program capable of thinking like humans do, of creating and feeling. However, while humans have yet to come up with their fully electronic replica, in some areas AI has already mastered the art of creation.

That being said, the AI ​​as we know it is not yet capable of creating or thinking in a human way. It is essentially an algorithm that solves problems strictly as instructed by a human being. The tasks assigned to AI are extremely wide, from “smart” databases to the creation of self-driving cars. In the 21st century, the progress in computer programming, high technologies, and the need to process massive amounts of information has significantly increased the role of artificial intelligence in helping people cope with all this, bringing about such notions as “digital government,” “digital democracy” and “smart home.” However, in 2020, demand for AI has been especially high for a number of reasons.

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic at the start of this year caught specialists flat-footed, with little information about the nature of the disease and the methods of dealing with it. Moreover, people were no longer able to bring together their knowledge and act as a united front without the help of machines. By April 2020, more than 30,000 scientific articles on COVID-19 had already been were published – a mass of information that is physically impossible for a person to analyze. This is when special search engines based on natural language processing algorithms immediately came to the aid of doctors, helping analyze new data and isolate the most important ones. The use of new technologies and rapid data exchange helped achieve significant success in the development of effective treatment algorithms and vaccines.

However, the pandemic laid bare the “dark” side of AI, finally turning it into a “Big Brother” watching over citizens. Countries around the world have been using various tracking technologies to prevent violations of quarantine measures (tracking drones, numerous smartphone apps and smart networks of surveillance cameras to identify violators, even though hastily-introduced AI-based programs have erred, malfunctioned and fined people who did not commit any violations.

China is a hands down leader when it comes to exercising control over citizens with the help of AI with a long history of introducing systems of social monitoring, all the way to the creation of personal ratings. At the end of 2019, free European media described this practice as “an electronic concentration camp,” only to adopt it itself just a few months later. Now, in terms of AI development, China is second only to the United States, but intends to catch up by 2030. Trailing immediately behind China are Britain, Canada, India and Israel, though on a less ambitious scale so far.   Meanwhile, in terms of the number of AI startups and projects per 1 million people, Sweden and Finland lead the pack.

One of Beijing’s biggest breakthroughs in the use of artificial intelligence is the creation of a one-of a kind “social trust system” (or “social credit”) – the personal rating of every Chinese citizen, based on a huge array of data about him or her, up to the time one has spent playing a computer game. Despite the “undemocratic” nature of such surveillance, it is still very much in demand in the “free West.” After all, a citizen’s personal rating reflects not  only one’s loyalty to the authorities, but also one’s creditworthiness, lifestyle  that affects one’s health, job performance and other information that may be of interest to banks, retailers and insurance companies. To one degree or another, such a rating is being implemented all over the world in the form of  electronic health cards integrated with various tracking applications, and credit ratings that scrupulously collect data on the citizens’ financial record, etc.

In fact, AI is already watching us and is able to quickly summarize data. By analyzing the number of queries with the keywords “taste loss” and “smell loss” – a simple and efficient algorithm developed by search engines, the system assesses the real incidence of coronavirus infections.

This ​​personalized analysis of queries by search engines proved extremely important in the outgoing year 2020, leading to an over 40 percent spike in the number of online sales.

Public demand for targeted advertising based on similar requests from online stores and various platforms has increased exponentially, persuading its creators to focus more on the individual preferences of each potential client, including an analysis of all the details of his or her request.

Finally, in a matter of just a few months, AI’s role in educational processes has gone through the roof with the mandatory transition to distance learning forcing many educational institutions to speedily implement various programs aimed at testing students, monitoring their attendance and even behavior during exams. The computer algorithms learn to single out even cheats and hints made during an examination by analyzing tilted heads, extraneous sounds and turned-away eyes. Algorithms also help teachers track their students’ activity during classes, and it would be naive to assume that AI will go away from schools and universities once the quarantine is over. On the contrary, the education system, which has already been actively going online thanks to Coursera, Skillbox and other network resources, will make a quantum leap in this direction. AI is head and shoulders above the public administration systems of many countries, which have not yet learned to include in students’ diplomas information about additional skills picked up from extramural online courses.

Naturally enough, the coming year will see even wider use of artificial intelligence in all spheres of human life, including social monitoring, health care and education. Next year, the new algorithms developed in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be further refined and used more efficiently.

The system of social control and social rating will be more or less adopted even by the world’s most liberal democracies. The problem, however, is that storing all information about a person in one hypothetical database to make his or her life easier makes it extremely vulnerable to hackers who can obtain full information about a person’s movements, addictions and expenses. There is also the risk of a human factor that AI may not be able to guard against when, for example, some corrupt employees get access to such massive volumes of information. Still, the development of new, more advanced AI algorithms ensuring the security of information and preventing, among other things, crimes using methods of social engineering, is sure to become a major priority for the developers of new technologies.

AI’s ability to process huge amounts of data and control all areas of human life keeps growing. Our life is getting more and more comfortable, but our personal space ends the moment we pick up a smartphone. At the same time, AI’s contribution to the fight against the pandemic, and its ability to forecast the next threat to humanity is now a factor that may further restrict a person’s free access to information, thus turning him or her into just one of the billions of folders with detailed personal data lost in the in the endless sea of information out there…

From our partner International Affairs

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Science & Technology

Iran among five pioneers of nanotechnology

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Prioritizing nanotechnology in Iran has led to this country’s steady placement among the five pioneers of the nanotechnology field in recent years, and approximately 20 percent of all articles provided by Iranian researchers in 2020 are relative to this area of technology.

Iran has been introduced as the 4th leading country in the world in the field of nanotechnology, publishing 11,546 scientific articles in 2020.

The country held a 6 percent share of the world’s total nanotechnology articles, according to StatNano’s monthly evaluation accomplished in WoS databases.

There are 227 companies in Iran registered in the WoS databases, manufacturing 419 products, mainly in the fields of construction, textile, medicine, home appliances, automotive, and food.

According to the data, 31 Iranian universities and research centers published more than 50 nano-articles in the last year. 

In line with China’s trend in the past few years, this country is placed in the first stage with 78,000 nano-articles (more than 40 percent of all nano-articles in 2020), and the U.S. is at the next stage with 24,425 papers. These countries have published nearly half of the whole world’s nano-articles.

In the following, India with 9 percent, Iran with 6 percent, and South Korea and Germany with 5 percent are the other head publishers, respectively.

Almost 9 percent of the whole scientific publications of 2020, indexed in the Web of Science database, have been relevant to nanotechnology.

There have been 191,304 nano-articles indexed in WoS that had to have a 9 percent growth compared to last year. The mentioned articles are 8.8 percent of the whole produced papers in 2020.

Iran ranked 43rd among the 100 most vibrant clusters of science and technology (S&T) worldwide for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 report.

The country experienced a three-level improvement compared to 2019.

Iran’s share of the world’s top scientific articles is 3 percent, Gholam Hossein Rahimi She’erbaf, the deputy science minister, has announced.

The country’s share in the whole publications worldwide is 2 percent, he noted, highlighting, for the first three consecutive years, Iran has been ranked first in terms of quantity and quality of articles among Islamic countries.

Sourena Sattari, vice president for science and technology has said that Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Science & Technology

Free And Equal Internet Access As A Human Right

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Having internet access in a free and equal way is very important in contemporary world. Today, there are more than 4 billion people who are using internet all around the world. Internet has become a very important medium by which the right to freedom of speech and the right to reach information can be exercised. Internet has a central tool in commerce, education and culture.

Providing solutions to develop effective policies for both internet safety and equal Internet access must be the first priority of governments. The Internet offers individuals power to seek and impart information thus states and organizations like UN have important roles in promoting and protecting Internet safety. States and international organizations play a key role to ensure free and equal Internet access.

The concept of “network neutrality is significant while analyzing equal access to Internet and state policies regulating it. Network Neutrality (NN) can be defined as the rule meaning all electronic communications and platforms should be exercised in a non-discriminatory way regardless of their type, content or origin. The importance of NN has been evident in COVID-19 pandemic when millions of students in underdeveloped regions got victimized due to the lack of access to online education.

 Article 19/2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights notes the following:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Internet access and network neutrality directly affect human rights. The lack of NN undermines human rights and causes basic human right violations like violating freedom of speech and freedom to reach information. There must be effective policies to pursue NN. Both nation-states and international organizations have important roles in making Internet free, safe and equally reachable for the people worldwide. States should take steps for promoting equal opportunities, including gender equality, in the design and implementation of information and technology. The governments should create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling online environment in accordance with human rights.

It is known that, the whole world has a reliance on internet that makes it easy to fullfill basic civil tasks but this is also threatened by increasing personal and societal cyber security threats. In this regard, states must fulfill their commitment to develop effective policies to attain universal access to the Internet in a safe way.

 As final remarks, it can be said that, Internet access should be free and equal for everyone. Creating effective tools to attain universal access to the Internet cannot be done only by states themselves. Actors like UN and EU have a major role in this process as well.

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Future Energy Systems Need Clear AI Boundaries

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Today, almost 60% of people worldwide have access to the Internet via an ever-increasing number of electronic devices. And as Internet usage grows, so does data generation.

Data keeps growing at unprecedented rates, increasingly exceeding the abilities of any human being to analyse it and discover its underlying structures.

Yet data is knowledge. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. Today’s high-speed computing systems can “learn” from experience and, thus, effectively replicate human decision-making.

Besides holding its own among global chess champions, AI aids in converting unstructured data into actionable knowledge. At the same time, it enables the creation of even more insightful AI – a win-win for all. However, this doesn’t happen without challenges along the way.

Commercial uses of AI have expanded steadily in recent years across finance, healthcare, education and other sectors. Now, with COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, many countries have turned to innovative technologies to halt the spread of the virus.

The pandemic, therefore, has further accelerated the global AI expansion trend.

Energy systems need AI, too.

Rapidly evolving smart technology is helping to make power generation and distribution more efficient and sustainable. AI and the Big Data that drives it have become an absolute necessity.  Beyond just facilitating and optimising, these are now the basic tools for fast, smart decision making.

With the accelerating shift to renewable power sources, AI can help to reduce operating costs and boost efficiency. Crucially, AI-driven “smart grids” can manage variable supply, helping to maximise the use of solar and wind power.

Read more in IRENA’s Innovation Toolbox.

Risks must be managed to maximise the benefits.

AI usage in the energy sector faces expertise-related and financial constraints.

Decision makers, lacking specialised knowledge, struggle to appreciate the wide-ranging benefits of smart system management. In this respect, energy leaders have proven more conservative than those in other sectors, such as healthcare.

Meanwhile, installing powerful AI tools without prior experience brings considerable risks. Data loss, poor customisation, system failures, unauthorised access – all these errors can bring enormous costs.

Yet like it or not, interconnected devices are on the rise.

What does this all mean for the average consumer?

Smart phones, smart meters and smart plugs, connected thermostats, boilers and smart charging stations have become familiar, everyday items. Together, such devices can form the modern “smart home”, ideally powered by rooftop solar panels.

AI can help all of us, the world’s energy consumers, become prosumers, producing and storing our own energy and interacting actively with the wider market. Our data-driven devices, in turn, will spawn more data, which helps to scale up renewables and maximise system efficiency.

But home data collection raises privacy concerns. Consumers must be clearly informed about how their data is used, and by whom. Data security must be guaranteed. Consumer privacy regulations must be defined and followed, with cybersecurity protocols in place to prevent data theft.

Is the future of AI applications in energy bright?

Indeed, the outlook is glowing, but only if policy makers and societies strike the right balance between innovation and risk to ensure a healthy, smart and sustainable future.

Much about AI remains to be learned. As its use inevitably expands in the energy sector, it cannot be allowed to work for the benefit of only a few. Clear strategies need to be put in place to manage the AI use for the good of all.

IRENA

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