UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week? Actually Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development

Source: UNESCO MLW

Today I had the pleasure to be part of the first day of the Mobile Learning Week (MLW) in Paris with its keynotes and discussion rounds. Last year the conference was focused on education in a mobile context with the focus on Skills for a connected world, as the MLW title implies. It seems, that this year it was hijacked by the trending ICT topic Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the education part was left out a bit. I can only assume why, but it seems that the UNESCO is shifting its focus and tries to spicy up their events with more buzzwords. AI is a trending topic and, besides its real significance, used most of the time to sell/promote things to people who have no glue about it. A couple of years ago it was the buzzword Blockchain Technologies to trigger interest and as far as I can remember, before that it was Cloud Computing. Yes, all of these technologies did or are changing the way we use and live with technology, but as before, most people are using the term AI more like this wonderful meme:



To be fair, AI and Machine Learning are much more than just statistics, read more here.

I am reporting from the MLW only from the first day, which is called “Principals for AI: Towards a Humanistic Approach” and the discussed AI topic fits more into this definition. To be fair, the next upcoming days will apparently stronger focus on education in combination with with AI and will have sessions such as “How can AI improve learning?”, “How can AI boost education and learning management systems?”, “How can AI be harnessed to reduce the learning inequitability?”, or “Will AI promote equity and gender equality?”.
Therefore, this blog post is not about Mobile Learning, but rather AI itself and summarizes some of the statements. I am pleased that at least some of the speakers were asking questions in the right direction and I hope this will continue in the upcoming AI-Education sessions. AI is happening and used world-wide, but as it is with every technology, it is just a tool and only gets a meaning or purpose when used by us. The question is not for what we should use AI and what it can do. This will be figured out anyway by the private and public sector due to demands by the market and the people. The real questions are:

  • Who is creating the AI, in which context was it created and what are their biases?
  • How transparent is it?
  • Who owns the AI and who has access to its tools?
  • Is it inclusive? Does it really mirror the society and context it is used in? (minorities, gender, sexual preferences, etc.)
  • How can we test and verify the decisions an AI takes for us?
  • Who is responsible for errors and accidents because of AI?
  • How democratic is the use of the AI? Who decided what we ask and for what we use it?

I am sure this list can be extended, feel free to do so, the more discussion the better. Please do not get me wrong, I favour AI and I am exited about the new possibilities AI offers, but I miss often a real discussion about pressing issues and questions. The buzzword topics Blockchain Technologies and Cloud Computing did not have the same impact capabilities as AI has. As a society we need to discuss how we would like to use AI in a democratic way. If we do not, then we will end up like China, where AI is used to control people in an unprecedented way. I personally want to live in a world were AI is enriching my freedom, not used to limit it or just to display me more fitting advertisement on Google or Facebook.

Furthermore, these questions are seldom asked for people in low-income countries. They are excluded from potential benefits of AIs already straight from the beginning. Our main goal must be to use AI to improve the lives of those who need it the most. For me, this would be a real intelligent use of Artificial Intelligence.

Here are some key statements I favoured during the key note and discussion rounds:

“Artificial intelligence is a false term, it’s neither artificial nor intelligent. It is created by us and it is our responsibility.“

“I work in many African countries and some of them have no freedom of press, no mandatory primary schools and a weak economy, but they develop an industry 4.0 and AI strategy for their countries. They don’t want to fall behind, but lack of the basics.”

“IEEE is currently working on Ethical Aligned Design for all who design technology and for the users as well. We work on how to put principal into practice, e.g. use standards to be implemented by the industry which have ethics at the core.”

“Behind every data point are actual people and we should not forget that.”

“Solidarity should be a core principal of AI.“

“African questions have to be taken into the context of an African problem. The design of an AI must take the people and their context into consideration”

“Many people say, that we need more women in AI”

“The current AI situation is reflecting the unfair distribution of wealth in the world. Definition, access and implementation are key.”

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UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week? Actually Artificial Intelligence for Sustainable Development
was published on 04.03.2019 by Paul Spiesberger. It files under Europe, global
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