On the 23rd of September 2020, in conjunction with the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, UNICEF, the International Telecommunication Union, UNDP, and the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, on Digital Cooperation, working together with other UN partners convened a High-Level Digital Cooperation event, focused on concrete actions to safeguard the technological era for future generations. It is our global shared responsibility to find a path forward and to build back better digitally.
The panel included H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia, H.E. Paula Ingabire, Minister of ICT & Innovation, on behalf of H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web and was moderated by Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU
“Ethiopia places Digital Connectivity in a wider context of socio economic objectives of its homegrown economic reform agenda”
“At the multilateral level, we need to identify mechanisms to ensure that digital technologies are used in a way that optimally shows their promising, bright and positive applications”
H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia at the High Level Meeting organized by UNICEF, the International Telecommunication Union, UNDP, and the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, in conjunction with the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations.
Here are some of my main takeaways from the afternoon session on “The Future of Cybersecurity: Artificial Intelligence and other Challenges”.
There are still many known unknowns with regards to potential new threats in the Global Cybersecurity landscape with the advent of AI (and other related trends in Big Data and IoTs)
There is an understanding of the apparent dual-use of AI (i.e. used toward beneficial and harmful ends) What unique legal, ethical and other challenges, if any, does AI pose as a dual-use technology?
There is still lack/absence of data to conduct evidence based academic research and policy making relating to AI and Cybersecurity. Assessment of AI-based attacks/threats and their impact on Cybersecurity is still work in progress. As of today, there is no publicly documented evidence of AI-based attacks.
Novel type of attacks (e.g. causing autonomous vehicles to crash, swarm of micro-drones) could lead to fatal casualties taking away human lives unlike the ‘traditional’ Cybersecurity threats known today with limited or no vital consequences.
There are concerns about policy choices made today with regards to AI that may affect future generations (analogous to the Climate Change).
There is a need to examine what is working and what is not in the various models of ‘multiskaholderism’ and how multi-disciplinary competencies could be built very early in education of the digital natives. (e.g. the need to have legal and ethics modules in Computer Sciences and Engineering curricula and vice-versa)
Civil Liability for Cyberattacks may face additional complexities with increased anonymity and difficulty to attribute attacks that are based on AI. New challenges in the legal aspects could emerge as malicious actors may exploit vulnerabilities of AI systems through new dimensions such as data poisoning, machine learning and related algorithms etcetera.
Former Secretary-General of the CTO shares his views on ‘ the contrast between attending a series of side events around the UN General Assembly in New York immediately following a marvellous two weeks in India has made me reflect again on the rhetoric and reality of using ICTs for development, especially in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised”
The reflections provide interesting figures on ‘Connecting the next billion’ as well as the views of a Maasai chief in Tanzania on why he has no reason to be online.
Interestingly, when asked about one particular field where the ‘Digital World’ (in other words – ICTs) can specially speed up the attainment of the SDGs, she singles out ‘Digital Finance’ as an investment to the SDGs themselves. (Forward to 3:50 min)
She also gave tips on the inclusion of women and the youth in the Digital World.
While offering insights into the risks and opportunities in using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it also cautiously refers to other elements to be considered in effectively embracing the potential of global connectivity to spur human progress.
“Another element to be considered in the advancement of ICT services is the issue of democracy, human rights, individual freedom and the right to privacy. Literature is rife with references to dystopian risks associated to the authoritarian control of ICTs (e.g. Huxley, Orwell). But reality has also provided clear examples of wrong-doing as frightening as the nightmares of fantasy. Espionage, manipulation of social media and other malpractices can become systemic risks of this technology. We cannot rule out at a certain point the emergence of a minority refusing to enter into any contact at all with ICTs, as a reaction to any unethical excesses. Time will tell how an open, democratic and liberal society will protect itself from such abuses.”
Time will also tell how authoritarian regimes will apply more and more restrictive measures on ICTs and misuse them due to fear of power replacement against some of SDGs.
It is indeed a promising pilot to answer questions like:
What is the ratio of hype to real progress in AI?
What kinds of problems have been well solved by current machine learning techniques, which ones are close to being solved, and which ones remain exceptionally hard?
And if the project is well followed up in the future : to what extent can such progress be used to foster social and economic development globally?
The pilot is using interesting methodologies that can help in understanding the current state of these technologies and raise meangful debate around the technical, political and legal issues and dilemmas they raise.
A promising start in defining metrics that could be enhanced with additional stakeholders’ perspectives including linkges to ‘AI for development’
Let us not forget that AI and machine learning methods can threaten safety of citizens particularly if in the hands of oppressive regimes which may raise wider and vital concerns than mere violation of privacy.
The United States presidential campaign has polarised positions around many issues (including some global ICT related ones).
While it is difficult to have a comprehensive assessment of all statements referring to technology, read ‘between the lines’ and discern clear positions, here are some interresting quotes from the candidates relating to ICTs and the UN that may affect ITU and its work.
Most of them are important in the United States national context but some ICT related statements related to Internet governance policy, Cyberwarfare and Cybersecurity, reduced commitment to Climate Change, balance between security and liberty, have international importance, will impact the United Nations and global ICT matters (hence ITU)
Here are some quotes (with links) and other related resources.
”The election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president was met with disbelief and despondency among some United Nations officials and diplomats” writes Michelle Nichols for Reuters.
A senior Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity ‘Many are assuming a Trump administration will be less engaged with UN than Obama’s administration, which was more committed to working for collective solutions than previous U.S. administrations‘
“One big question is whether Trump will moderate his position on climate change“, said Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert who has written on what a Trump administration could mean for the United Nations.
U.N. officials, including the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein, have spoken out against Trump, saying he would be “dangerous from an international point of view.”
An article at DemocracyNow states that “Trump Climate Denial Threatens U.N. Climate Change Agreement and that many delegates to the U.N. talks are expressing panic over the election of Donald Trump, saying the outcome threatens the future of any international agreement to slow catastrophic climate change. The Republican president-elect has said he will “cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.”
Question and answer with Trump
Q: You recently suggested “closing that Internet up,” as a way to stop ISIS from recruiting online. Some say that would put the US in line with China and North Korea.
TRUMP: ISIS is recruiting through the Internet. ISIS is using the Internet better than we are using the Internet, and it was our idea. I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I don’t want to let people that want to kill us use our Internet. Source: 2015 CNN/Salem Republican two-tier debate , Dec 15, 2015
Around the world, digital technology is seen as vital for economic development. In the U.S. alone, the internet accounts for about six percent of the entire economy. Digital technology has expanded its role in the global economy in recent years, as both developed and developing nations have become increasingly reliant on the internet.
The centrality of the internet to social and economic life recently led the United Nations to enact a resolution supporting the “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet.” The resolution specifically condemns state efforts to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to information online.
Yet powerful forces continue to threaten the vitality of the internet. In recent years, a number of countries have blocked particular applications, shut down specific digital services, turned off mobile telecommunications services, or disrupted the entire internet. Government officials give many reasons for ordering these disruptions, such as safeguarding government authority, reducing public dissidence, fighting terrorism, maintaining national security, or protecting local businesses.
Those actions separate people from their family, friends, and livelihoods, undermine economic growth, interfere with the startup ecosystem, and threaten social stability by interrupting economic activity, says Darrell West in a new paper. In “Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year,” West analyzes the economic impact of temporary internet shutdowns. He examines 81 short-term shutdowns in 19 countries over the past year and estimates their impact on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of those nations. Based upon this analysis, West finds that between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, internet shutdowns cost at least US$2.4 billion in GDP globally. Economic losses include $968 million in India, $465 million in Saudi Arabia, $320 million in Morocco, $209 million in Iraq, $72 million in the Republic of the Congo, $69 million in Pakistan, $48 million in Syria, $35 million in Turkey and $9 million in Ethiopia, among other places. These are conservative estimates that consider only reductions in economic activity and do not account for tax losses or drops in investor, business, and consumer confidence.
Clearly, internet disruptions are creating significant detrimental impacts on economic activity in a number of nations around the world. And, as West writes, “As the digital economy expands, it will become even more expensive for nations to shut down the internet. Without coordinated action by the international community, this damage is likely to accelerate in the future and further weaken global economic development.”