World News in Brief: Artificial Intelligence pledge, child abuse online, Sudan crisis deepens

8 global tech companies commit to apply to UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of AI when designing and deploying AI systems.
8 global tech companies commit to apply to UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of AI when designing and deploying AI systems.
  • UN News

Lenovo Group, LG AI Research, Mastercard, Microsoft, Salesforce, Telefonica, GSMA network of mobile phone operators, and INNIT have pledged to “integrate the values and principles” of UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of AI when designing and deploying AI systems.

The announcement came at the UN education, science and culture agency’s Global Forum on AI, taking place in Slovenia on Monday and Tuesday.

UNESCO forged a consensus between all its member States in November 2021 to adopt the first global ethical framework for the use of AI.

‘Concrete commitment’

“Today, we are taking another major step by obtaining the same concrete commitment from global tech companies”, said UNESCO’s Director-General, Audrey Azoulay.

“I call on all tech stakeholders to follow the example of these first eight companies. This alliance of the public and private sectors is critical to building AI for the common good.”

In the first commitment of its kind to the UN, the agreement compels companies to fully guarantee human rights in the design, development, purchase, sale, and use of AI.

It states that due diligence, must be carried out to meet safety standards, to identify the adverse effects of AI, and timely measures taken to prevent, mitigate, or remedy them, in line with domestic legislation, said UNESCO in a press release.

The agreement also notes that testing before a new AI system is released onto the market is essential but given the fast evolution of systems already on the market, it also calls for the development of post-deployment risk assessments and mitigation practices.

AI boom facilitates child abuse via the Internet, warns rights expert

In another indicator of the importance of AI oversight, a top UN-appointed human rights expert warned of Monday that the volume of reported child sexual abuse material online has increased by 87 per cent since 2019.

Calling for more action to eradicate child exploitation online, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Mama Fatima Singhateh, said that generative AI and eXtended Reality software had made the problem worse.

It is now possible to create computer-generated “deepfakes” and so-called “deepnudes” and distribute them encrypted and without built-in safety mechanisms, the Special Rapporteur said.

Reliability issue

And ahead of Safer Internet Day on 6 February, Ms. Singhateh alleged that the private sector and big tech were “less reliable” than they had promised to be, “with serious ingrained biases, flaws in programming and surveillance software to detect child abuse”, (and a) failure to crack down on child sexual abuse and exploitation networks.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s AI Advisory Body which is tasked with making recommendations for the establishment of an international agency to govern and coordinate Artificial Intelligence.

And she also insisted that governments and companies should “work together to solve the issue of child abuse, by including the victims’ voices “in the design and development of ethical digital products to foster a safer online environment”.

For guidelines and advice from the UN on keeping children safe online, go here.

UN migration agency and rights experts spotlight deepening Sudan crisis

A staggering 25 million people need humanitarian assistance in Sudan, 14 million of them children.

That’s the urgent message from the UN migration agency IOM and top rights experts who, on Monday, backed global calls for a ceasefire, warning that “every moment of continued violence, puts more lives at risk”.

Heavy fighting that erupted last April between rival forces and spread across Sudan has pushed more than 1.7 million people into neighbouring countries and uprooted some 10 million in total.

Egypt alone hosts more than 415,000 people where IOM helps Sudan’s displaced to rebuild their lives, like Mohammed.

He fled the capital, Khartoum, taking a dangerous bus journey to Egypt last May. It took two days, during which time he saw “unimaginable horrors” including homes shot at or burned.

Today, Mohammed remains deeply worried about his relatives who are trapped by fighting in Al Fashir in northern Darfur.

Four in 10 face acute hunger

Echoing those concerns, top rights experts who report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva said that almost four in 10 people in Sudan now face acute hunger – 17.7 million in all.

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts warned that the ongoing conflict had worsened communal tensions.

Equally concerning are the lack of resources and lack of international aid, which have “significantly increased the risk of violence between host communities and IDPs”, the rights experts said, referring to internally displaced people.

They warned that the elderly, people with disabilities, women and girls are “falling victims of targeted attacks by the members of the host community”.

In a statement, IOM insisted that aid “must reach the millions in need. People must be able to access food, fuel, medicines and other critical supplies and services. People trying to flee, and access assistance should be able to do so safely.”

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