Why the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on AI should focus on protecting children

Why the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on AI should focus on protecting children
By Ivan Fan | July 8, 2019

The advent of AI is a trend which will affect our children and our children’s children. In a world characterized by constant technological change, we must invest more in preparing future generations through improved governance of AI-interactions involving children, particularly in the context of areas such as education.

The newly created World Economic Forum (WEF) AI Council on Artificial Intelligence presents an opportunity to develop a global governance approach to AI, which should include a strong treatment of governance issues around AI-interactions with children. The forum is well positioned to do so; its Generation AI project has previously advanced important questions regarding uses of AI in relation to children.

The creation of the council comes in the wake of a recent trend of nations placing greater emphasis on cooperation with regard to overall AI governance. Multi-lateral efforts on the part of the EU and OECD, in particular, have sparked efforts toward developing a consensus around core AI issues in their respective memberships. Notably, the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on AI recently released a set of ethical guidelines on AI and recommendations for trustworthy AI, formally addressing the need for governance around AI-interactions with children.

In a time when troubling terms such as “technological cold war” have cropped up, overcoming techno-nationalistic tensions and fostering collaboration has never been more important between great powers. The great challenge we face today is ensuring that people everywhere—in both developed and emerging countries—have sufficient access to AI resources. The best way to achieve this is by doubling down on opening up access to educational opportunities to youth everywhere, and the WEF is well positioned to provide critical, impartial leadership on this front.

Current talent pools are insufficient for taking advantage of the future range of occupations enabled by AI, and without systemic reform addressing rising inequality, societies will regress to a state in which opportunities are increasingly restricted to those able to access AI resources. National efforts such as the American AI Initiative, China’s New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, and the European Strategy on Artificial Intelligence all emphasize talent shortages as a significant impediment to implementing AI effectively.

This is why policies directed toward the expansion of the available talent pool are critical, which should include redesigning education systems to prepare children with the necessary skills to thrive in an AI-enabled world. Many countries agree that overhauling education systems to teach necessary cognitive, socio-cultural, and entrepreneurial and innovation competencies are a primary means of addressing talent shortages. Expanding access to STEM opportunities for women is also of vital importance, and must improve at all ends of the talent pipeline—from early childhood education all the way to the C-suite.

In his landmark book “AI Superpowers”, Kai-Fu Lee, co-chair of the WEF’s new council on AI alongside Microsoft President Brad Smith, writes about how perception AI is revolutionizing China’s education system. I serve as a research and teaching assistant to faculty here at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, and I have seen first-hand how new technologies can revolutionize the delivery of education in my own graduate program. Instructors now have unprecedented access to rich profiles of students and to dashboards notifying them of a whole host of AI-enabled features including high-fidelity, real-time notifications about performance at the individual and macro-level.

In revamping our education systems to use AI and to teach AI, it is crucial that the safety and rights of children are strictly respected by those who would impact their learning and growth. AI HLEG provides some ideas for the Global AI Council to consider – it recommends protecting children from “…unsolicited monitoring, profiling and interest invested habitualisation and manipulation” and giving children a “clean slate” of any public or private storage of data related to them upon reaching a certain age. The WEF’s Global Council on AI represents an outstanding opportunity to consider and iterate upon such ideas in order to better protect and serve the needs of our children.

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