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Artificial Intelligence – a quantum leap for sustainable development

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9 June 2017 – The development of Artificial intelligence, or AI, is rapidly accelerating. Inclusive global dialogue now aims to chart a course for computers to benefit all of humanity.

For some people, intelligent computers and machine learning might sound like something straight out of dystopian science-fiction films like The Terminator or The Matrix. But according to experts, AI rather holds the key to a much brighter future.

At the AI for Good Global Summit, some of the world’s brightest minds on AI and humanitarian action met with industry leaders and experts from more than 70 leading companies and research institutes to explore how AI will assist global efforts to address poverty, hunger, education, healthcare and the protection of our environment.

“We have gathered to discuss how far AI can go, how much it will improve our lives and how we can all work together to make it a force for good,” says Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the ITU, which is co-hosting the summit with the XPRIZE Foundation and supported by 20 other UN agencies.

The event, which takes place in Geneva and is set to wrap up today, emphasizes AI’s potential to contribute to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

With the help from AI, massive amounts of data can be analysed to map poverty and climate change, automate agricultural practices and irrigation, individualize healthcare and learning, predict consumption patterns, streamline energy-usage and waste-management, and outwit poachers and illegal fishing. And that is just the tip of the iceberg! Some believe that AI might even lead to world peace or take the human species to a new level.

“Artificial Intelligence is advancing dramatically. It is already transforming our world socially, economically and politically. We face a new frontier, with advances moving at warp speed,” says António Guterres in a digital message that opened the AI summit.

“But there are also serious challenges and ethical issues at stake. There are real concerns about cyber-security, human rights and privacy. Not to mention the obvious and significant impact on the labour market,” he adds.

And while developing countries potentially stand to benefit the most from AI, they also face the highest risk of getting left behind in a dust cloud of bits and bytes. Also, restriction of intelligent weapons, or ‘killer robots’, is a major issue on AI at the UN.

The global summit also explored the safe and ethical development of AI and how to protect against any unintended consequences of the technology. After all, Artificial Intelligence is no longer just science fiction.


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