IFAP Chair addresses the issue of using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology for development

The Chair of the Information for All Programme (IFAP) Ms Dorothy Gordon was the guest speaker at a luncheon conference on the topic of AI for development (AI4D) that took place in Montreal, Canada on 28 May 2019. Organized by Montreal Council on Foreign Relations (MCFR), the conference provided an opportunity for 150 participants, from both private and public sectors, to learn about and discuss strategies to capitalize on the benefits of AI to advance the development efforts while ensuring ethical use of AI.

This conference was a part of International Development conference series organized by MCFR, whose mission is to promote greater knowledge of international affairs and facilitate cooperation between various stakeholders and interest groups in international affairs. International Development Research Center (IDRC), a corporation that supports researches in developing countries, sponsored this event.

Ms Gordon pointed out that it is imperative to combine two elements, namely AI and ethical values, in a compound approach, as described in the discussion paper prepared for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO "Two-Eyed AI", which stipulates that a framework be created to create a new sphere of development and application of the ethical implications of AI technologies. Linking ethical policies to AI development strategies will allow for transparent, integrated and risk-free development in the field of AI.

At the conference, Ms Gordon disapproved some of the past development efforts employing technology, noting that “Africa is littered with poorly designed technology projects that have brought no benefits at all to the population.” Despite the past trial-and-errors, Ms Gordon still believes that AI could contribute to advancing development efforts in Africa. As an example of how technology could benefit development efforts, Ms Gordon mentioned that AI could be used to help more people access information on government’s actions and decision-making process by translating the official documents published in colonial languages to the African languages that are more widely spoken in Africa.

Ms Dorothy Gordon also had an interview with Janic Tremblay of Radio Canada and shared her insights into the status of AI development and regulation in Africa.  Ms Gordon reiterated in the interview that though AI has much potential, not enough discussion on how to regulate and how to understand AI’s impact on the society has taken place yet. AI has brought about many societal and economic changes, the impact, whether good or harmful, is nevertheless tangible. From increasing efficiency and effectiveness in work to job loss and new forms of discrimination. We will all experience an invasion of privacy and personal autonomy.  As an example of topics on AI that requires more discussion, Ms Gordon mentioned the inaccuracy of some face-recognition software, which brought about a controversy as to the potential discriminatory nature of technology in the United States of America justice system and whether the data collected accurately portray the reality of African societies along with the Global North. This reflects the need to deploy technology to give voice to marginalized groups and to include everyone, let us leave no one behind in the decision-making process and in the development of open and democratic ethical policies and processes.

During her visit to Canada, Ms Gordon also met with the President of COMEST, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and (the UNESCO Chair in Prevention of Violent Extremism at the University of Québec in Montréal) which has engaged in a multitude of initiatives in the field of the ethics of AI technologies. Ms Gordon also participated at the 2019 GO Open Data conference in Toronto, Canada on 29 May 2019 in a panel discussion entitled: “How ready is government for AI? Openness, promise and risks of AI and automation”.


About IFAP

The Information for All Programme (IFAP) was established in 2001 to provide a platform for international cooperation in the area of access to information and knowledge for the participation of all in the knowledge societies. IFAP is a unique UNESCO intergovernmental programme that focuses on ensuring that all people have access to information they can use to improve their lives. The IFAP Bureau consists of eight Member States nominated by the governing Council. It meets twice a year to appraise, select and approve projects as well as to hold thematic debates on issues of importance for the Programme.