Mobile Learning and Education

Volume 3       Issue 1       January 2018

Growth of Mobile Technologies

According to the latest International Telecommunications Union (ITU) data there are still substantial differences in levels of ownership of mobile devices and access to broadband internet between the developing and the developing world. However, it is promising to note that there is a steady growth in the ownership of mobile devices and especially mobile phones across the developing world. This growth in mobile technology adoption has brought much hope for improving the livelihoods of the most disadvantaged. Education is seen as one such domain and mobile learning in particular as an instance of the application of mobile technologies to achieve improved life conditions.

Mobile Technologies in Education

Notwithstanding the rapid growth in ownership of mobile technologies and the promotion of mobile learning as a new model for delivering education, many challenges remain and need to be addressed before we can truly achieve ubiquitous and impactful education via mobile learning. Recent studies suggest that while there is an increase in the adoption of mobile technologies in higher education many problems related to their effectiveness and usage remain [1] such as mobile learning infrastructure, institutional support and design problems related to the pedagogy and content suitable for mobile delivery [2]. These challenges require systematic exploration and this is particularly important in the developing world where the stakes are higher because of resource challenges.

Mobile Learning: Research Agenda for Developing Countries

There is a tendency in the developing world to adopt technologies, practices and models from the developed contexts without due consideration to the local contexts. Our research on mobile learning in Guyana and the Caribbean more widely acknowledged at the outset potential differences and the possible effects these may have on adoption.

Our ongoing research on mobile learning has thus far been two-fold. We are working towards developing a better overview of the level of adoption of mobile technologies in formal learning at the University level in Guyana [2] and across the Caribbean [3]. Our data so far has shown mobile phones technologies are the most widely adopted for learning, that ownership of other types of mobile devices is linked to income; and that students more than lecturers are likely to explore various features on their devices for learning [2]. While we noted an increasing trend in the use of mobile technologies, it is important to understand the factors that might hinder or promote the acceptance and adoption of these technologies in our context. To this end we have assessed a number of technology acceptance models [2] [3] with the aim of determining how well these models work in our context and to help us identify the factors that may or may not be holding up. We found that the attitude towards the use of the mobile technologies for learning is the most important driver of adoption in the Guyanese context. Further, factors may vary across the developing countries context.

Next Steps

We aim to explore two aspects of mobile learning in the near future; one focus will be methodological and the other focuses on mobile computational learning. Our aim is to establish whether these categories can explain the adoption of mobile learning and mobile learning technologies. Second, our work on mobile learning will take a different turn and will explore how mobile technologies can assist the learning of computing. We will undertake a project to bring computing to students at the primary and secondary schools level using the BBC’s Micro:bit technology. This small technology fits the description of the mobile agenda and will allow us to take technology to various schools and groups not constrained by classroom settings. This view of mobile learning will allow us to reach a wider cross section of society using a small resource base.

References

[1] Pimmer, C., Mateescu, M., & Gröhbiel, U. (2016). Mobile and ubiquitous learning in higher education settings. A systematic review of empirical studies. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 490-501.

[2] Singh, L., Thomas, T.D., Gaffar, K., & Renville, D. (2016). Mobile Learning in the Developing World: Perceptions Using the UTAUT Model. In Handbook of Research on Mobile Devices and Applications in Higher Education Settings. Eds Briz-Ponce, L., Juanes-Mendez, J.A., & Garcia-Penalvo, F.J.

[3] Thomas, T.D., Singh, L., Gaffar, K., Thakur, D., Jackman, G.A., Thomas, M., Gajraj, R., Allen, C., Tooma, K. (2014). Measurement invariance of the UTAUT constructs in the Caribbean. International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), 10(4), 102-127.

 

Christmas Greetings 2017 from the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D

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Members and Affiliated Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D would like to take this opportunity to share these images from a nativity scene in Macau earlier this month and wish all of their friends and colleagues a happy, peaceful and relaxed Christmas.  According to the Gospels,  Christ was born in a stable (homeless), to an unmarried mother, and then became a refugee as his parents fled from Palestine to Egypt.  For those of us working in the field of ICT4D, it is a timely reminder of our commitment to using ICTs to serve the interests of the poorest and most marginalised, wherever they are to be found, and especially children, the homeless, minorities, and refugees.

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For learn more about our work, do explore these links:

The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at EQUALS Research Group meeting in Macau

EQUALS is a global initiative committed to achieving gender equality in the digital age.  5Its founding partners are the ITU, UN Women, UNU Computing and Society (UNU-CS) institute, the International Trade Centre, and the GSMA, and Royal Holloway, University of London, is one of the first group of 25 partners for the initiative.  We were delighted that the Principal of Royal Holloway, Professor Paul Layzell, was able to attend the first Principal’s meeting in New York during the UNGA in September 2017 (image to the right).  There are three Coalitions within EQUALS, for Skills (led by GIZ and UNESCO), Access (led by the GSMA) and Leadership (led by the ITC), and these are supported by a Research Group, led by the UNU-CS.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has been very active across all areas of EQUALS’ work since its original conception during the discussions held at the WSIS Forum in May 2016, and has been particularly involved in contributing to the work of the Skills Coalition.

The first face-to-face physical (rather than virtual) meeting of the Research Group was convened by the UNU-CS in Macau from 5th-6th December (official press release), and it was great that the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D could be represented by both Liz Quaglia and Tim Unwin at this meeting.  This week’s gathering brought together researchers and policymakers from 21 organizations around the world. It established the group’s research agenda, drafted its work plan for 2018, and finalized the content and schedule of its inaugural report due to be published in mid-2018.  In particular, it provided a good opportunity for researchers to help shape the Coalitions’ thinking around gender and equality in the three areas of skills, access and leadership, and also to identify ways through which they could contribute new research to enable the coalitions to be evidence-led in their activities.

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Huge thanks are due to Araba Sey, who convened the meeting with amazing enthusiasm, insight and professionalism, and all of the other staff at UNU-CS who contributed so much to the meeting.  It was a great occasion when some of the world’s leading researchers in gender and ICTs could meet together, not only to discuss EQUALS, but also to explore other areas of related research, and to build the trust and openness necessary to increase gender equality both in the field of ICTs, and also through the ways that ICTs influence every aspect of people’s lives.

New Internet Society report on Internet Access and Education: Key considerations for policy makers

The Internet Society has just published a new report on Internet Access and Education.  This makes interesting reading.  In summary it argues that “The Internet has immense potential to improve the quality of education, which is one of the pillars of sustainable development. This … briefing outlines ways in which policymakers can unlock that potential through an enabling framework for access to the Internet. It sets out five priorities for policymakers: infrastructure and access, vision and policy, inclusion, capacity, and content and devices. Together these represent key considerations for unlocking access to the Internet in support of education”.

They will be holding an online seminar on 6th December to discuss these issues, which we be moderated by Ben Petrazzini, IDRC, and will include the following speakers:

  • Tomi Dolenc, Academic and Research Network (ARNES), Slovenia
  • Miguel Brechner, Ceibal Plan, Uruguay
  • Dirk Hastedt, IEA, Netherlands & Germany
  • Shireen Yacoub, Edraak.org, Jordan
  • Patrick Muinda, Ministry of Education and Sports, Uganda

This work follows the Internet Society’s report earlier this year entitled Internet for Education in Africa: Helping policy makers to meet the global education agenda Sustainable development Goal 4

Inaugurating Crypto for Development

Volume 2      Issue 11      November 2017

Recent years have seen an impressive rise in the adoption of technology throughout the world. In the global South (Africa, in particular), the use mobile technology has provided access to a wide variety of new services, from weather forecasting for farmers to medicine validation, which aim at enabling development and increasing people’s quality of life.

A prominent example of this is branchless banking, which permits the delivery of banking services such as withdrawals, deposits, and transfers to remote, typically rural, locations, where it would be prohibitively expensive to build a physical bank branch. The positive, life-transforming effects of providing financial services to the unbanked have been praised in the literature, and the security research community has emphasized that such effects will be sustainable only by providing secure branchless banking solutions. Indeed a lack of security would eventually lead to diminishing confidence in the service, producing an undesirable backlash effect.

Much research has been done with the aim of proposing secure systems, ranging from solutions involving simple phones and scratch cards, to using advanced modern SIM features such as smart card web servers, to developing short message authentication protocols designed for human readability. While these efforts are well intentioned, the security of the systems that are actually deployed is still inadequate.  A recent study (Reaves et al., 2015) shows that most branchless banking applications used in the developing world are subject to several security vulnerabilities, highlighting the existing gap between secure technology design and practical technology adoption.  Such a gap is not merely technical.  There is a growing awareness that technology needs to be designed for and placed in a cultural and societal context, and that humans are a fundamental and integral part of the definition and delivery of security itself.

In a project developed within REFLECT (http://www.reflect-action.org) we use participatory methodologies, including visualization tools, to provide a realistic and insightful understanding of a community, as well as actively engaging its members. Such ideas are at the heart of many social-change initiatives. In our work we take a first step in bridging the identified gap between theory and practice in secure branchless banking by doing three things:

1) Identify and systematise assumptions that are being made on the resources and connectivity available in the locations where branchless banking is intended to be effective, as well as on the security models underlying the existing designs (e.g., entities and operations involved, notions of identity, and levels of trust);

2) Analyse the benefits of participatory approaches to the design of threat models, since such tools help develop a better understanding of what constitutes security for a particular community, and for what reasons this is considered to be so; and

3) Propose a participatory design approach in the context of Ghanaian local communities.

The outcome of this will be ways of better determining the cryptographic design of branchless banking solutions, and consequently preparing the ground for its successful adoption in local communities. Our initial work in Ghana aims to provide a better understanding of what core properties in branchless banking are significant to its secure adoption that can hten be explored further in the wider African contxt.

This represents the first key part of a complex journey to achieve such goal. The next step will be to engage with Ghanaian communities using the proposed participatory tools to understand what security in branchless banking means for them. This will challenge our identified assumptions and start a conversation that will help to develop more secure, context-aware technologies. Moreover, we envisage that this approach will be applicable to many types of technologies adopted in the developing world, thereby inaugurating C4D, namely Cryptography for Development.

 

Reaves, B., Scaife, N., Bates, A. M., Traynor, P., & Butler, K. R. (2015, August). Mo (bile) Money, Mo (bile) Problems: Analysis of Branchless Banking Applications in the Developing World. In USENIX Security Symposium (pp. 17-32).

ICT4D: mainstreaming the marginalised in Pakistan

Workshop 2It was great to be back in Islamabad to participate in the second two-day workshop organised by the Inter-Islamic Network on Information Technology and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology with the assistance of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, and held on 5th and 6th October.  It was fascinating to see the progress that has been made in Pakistan since the first such workshop that we convened in January 2016,  particularly in terms of policy making, awareness, and entrepreneurial activity.  It was also very good to see such a diverse group of participants, including academics, entrepreneurs, civil society activities, government officials, and representatives of bilateral donors engaging in lively discussions throughout both days about how best we can turn rhetoric into reality.

Following the official opening ceremony, there were seven main sessions spread over two days:

  • shahUnderstanding the ICT4D landscape, in which the main speaker was Dr. Ismail Shah, the Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority
  • The road to facilitation: financial technologies for the marginalised, with a plenary given by Qasif Shahid (FINJA) about making payments frictionless, free and real time.
  • Addressing the digital gender gap, at which the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about why this is a pressing concern, and it gave a chance for him to tdiscusst the new UN-led EQUALS initiative for gender equality in a digital age, as well as some of the challenges that face women in using ICTs (slide deck).
  • No tech to low tech to high tech: an entrepreneur’s tale, with a plenary by Muhammad Nasrulla (CEO INTEGRY).
  • disability panelServing the most marginalised: accessibility and disability, with a plenary by David Banes on access and inclusion using ICTs, which included a very useful framework for considering digital accessibility issues.
  • Developing technologies for the rural/urban slum needs, during which Muhammad Mustafa spoke about his vision of enabling all 700 million illiterate adults in the world to go online through his Mauqa Online initiative.
  • Educating the marginalised, where the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about educating marginalised children (slide deck) and Shaista Kazmi from Vision 21 described their Speed Literacy Program.

Each session combined enthusiastic discussion around the themes addressed by the plenary speakers, and it was excellent to learn from all those involved  about using ICTs in very practical ways to deliver on the needs of poor and marginalised people and communities in Pakistan.

Atiq and AlberFull details of the event can be found on the INIT site, where copies of the slide decks from each main presentation will also be available.  Very many thanks go to all of the organisers, especially Tahir Naeem, Akber Gardezi and Muhammad Atiq from COMSATS IIT and INIT for all of the hard work that they put into making the event a success.  We look forward to convening the next such workshop in about a year’s time, once again bringing together people from all backgrounds intent on using ICTs to support Pakistan’s most marginalised communities.

Digital Crowdsourcing and Inclusion in Global Food Markets

Volume 2      Issue 10      October 2017

The OECD suggests that regulations and the industrialisation of agriculture have contributed to both economic growth and poverty reduction. However, with time, regardless of the higher connectivity and spread of ICTs, many people have become more detached from the land and from the farmers who cannot yet be replaced by machines. Many such farmers are still living in poverty in the Equatorial belt, although some of their exotic products such as coffee and cocoa are sold at premium prices in supermarkets in the richer countries.  A rethinking of digital platforms and ICTs could help to re-establish the relationship between consumers and farmers in global food markets.

The idea of using ICTs in agriculture for development is not new. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) has always had a keen interest on ICT Uses for Inclusive Agricultural Value Chains.  e-Agriculture also undertakes valuable research and policy work on ICT for sustainable agriculture and rural development. Kiva Labs has identified three problems where crowdsourcing can help: flexible credit, access to market infrastructure, and training. However, for a better understanding of ICTs for inclusive innovation in global food markets the focus needs to shift away from countries and regions, and towards entrepreneurs, the farmers and their interests.

Crowdsourcing is often presented as a mean for entrepreneurs to access resources from the many, the crowd. In agriculture it can help farmers to access capital for growth, innovation and better access to global food markets, and also improve collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners. Patch of Land, a real estate crowdsourcing platform promotes projects like Athena Organic Farm + Eco-Retreat in Canada as setting the stage by businesses offering a farm-based experience rather than only products, expanding into the digital space through crowd social entrepreneurship and innovation. But can farmers from developing countries harness the power of digital crowdsourcing to come closer to global food markets and consumers?

In developing countries such as Indonesia, the idea of crowdsourcing has been seen particularly positively. While several international crowdsourcing platforms offer global mutual programs, Indonesia has various local platforms in the Bahasa language. Some of them focus on a particular issue such as health (WeCare.id) and  culture (GerakanSejutaBudaya), while others focus on important general social issues supporting personal or social creative issues (GandengTangan, KitaBisa). Some of the crowdsourcing platforms are even available in applications from smartphones, making them more reachable.

In a pilot study conducted for this Briefing we decided to focus on two initiatives in Indonesia. First we examined BigTreeFarms a sustainable agriculture U.S. company sourcing organic cocoa, coconut and other ingredients for their products sold in global markets. Talking with their Head of Corporate Quality, Food Safety and Management, it was clear that one of their key challenges is educating their 10,000+ local farmer partners about organic food producing standards and ensuring that such practices are followed. Second, we spoke with GandengTangan (meaning ‘Hand-in-Hand’). This is a relatively new crowdsourcing platform designed to help individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Indonesia to secure funding for growth and better access to local and global markets. Testimonials from successfully-funded projects on the platform show that the scheme has provided new hope to expand businesses in a different way. The two case studies lead us to ask whether the micro-crowdsourcing model and the large sustainable farming investment model can be combined together for a more integrated system.

Regardless of the many crowdsourcing initiatives and inclusive innovations in developing countries, few farmers use and leverage ICTs to expand their skills and gain better access to funding and global food markets. The challenge for crowdsourcing platforms in developing countries is not only to link the global crowd to fundraisers, but also to educate and mentor both parties to collaborate better in the international market arena. Further consideration of important aspects such as local culture, contexts, and trust, as well as useful training or mentoring that might help support them including language, global marketing, farming entrepreneurshis, information and financial literacy is necessry. There is much that ICTs can do, but further research is needed in this direction.

Royal Holloway, University of London – Principal attends first partner meeting of EQUALS in New York

It was great to see Royal Holloway, University of London, represented by the Principal, Professor Paul Layzell, at the first principals meeting of EQUALS, the partnership for gender equality in the digital age, held on 16th September, just before the UN General Assembly starting today in New York.

EQUALS is a very important initiative, founded by the ITU, UN-Women, the ITC, the UNU-CS and the GSMA, to reverse the trend of increasing gender digital inequality.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has been delighted to be working closely with the founding partners ever since the origins of EQUALS, and our membership provides an opportunity for everyone at Royal Holloway, University of London to play a part in helping to make a difference in this crucial area.

Royal Holloway, University of London, has played a leading role in the higher education of women, especially in STEM subjects.  Bedford College, University of London, which merged with Royal Holloway College in the 1980s to form Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, now abbreviated to Royal Holloway, University of London, was thus founded in 1849 as the first higher education college in the UK specifically for women.  Staff from many of its leading departments contribute to the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D; 12 of our 28 Members and Affiliated Members are women.

EQUALS has three broad coalitions, on Skills, Access and Leadership, and Royal Holloway is an active member of the Skills coalition.  The College is also participating in the EQUALS Research Group being led by the UNU Computing and Society Institute (UNU-CS).  It is great to see the College featuring in this high profile UN initiative, as one of only two universities among the first 24 Partners and 5 Founding Partners.

I hope that the pictures below of the principals meeting, and Professor Paul Layzell’s interview, capture something of the atmosphere.

Curating Knowledge in the Future

Volume 2    Issue 9    September 2017

Two years ago, together with former colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and supported by the School of International Futures (SOIF), I worked on a research project that used foresight tools to explore ‘knowledge sharing in the digital age’. The ‘foresight approach’ involves a range of methods for getting perspectives on the future and creating a roadmap to inform policy and practice.  We were looking 15 years ahead and engaged with a range of stakeholders, mainly from the African context. Through workshops and interviews we identified key drivers of change and used the foresight tools to describe different imagined scenarios. The result was policy recommendations for achieving preferred outcomes in a world characterised by the freedoms which we would like to enjoy. In this briefing, I have chosen to revisit this topic as a short ‘thought piece’.

ICTs play an ever-increasing role in supporting innovation and in how knowledge is created and shared.  Our society is being reshaped for better and for worse, and the effects of ICTs are not neutral. For almost any ICT you can name, there are good and bad affordances. For example, take the role of drones in gathering data: we can celebrate some aspects of the role they can play in collecting life-saving information in a disaster situation such as the Nepal earthquake in May 2015. We can also resent and challenge the intrusiveness, invasion of privacy and danger to air travel that can result if their use is not regulated. However, if the information they can help to gather is not made freely available, and simply supports powerful people in wealthy organisations or governments, then what are the implications for future generations?

The digital divide exists within a daunting set of growing inequalities related to economic opportunity, power and knowledge. The ways in which knowledge is mediated and made available in our society is having a major impact on these other divides. Mediation itself takes place in different ways between people, between people and ICT devices, and between ICT devices.   The last category may sound surprising, but in a world where we now refer to the ‘internet of things’ and some of those ‘things’ themselves reflect growing ‘artificial intelligence’, it could be argued that knowledge can increasingly be developed by, and shared between, technology based non-human objects.  In simple ways, and without artificial intelligence driving it, we already see music devices and gadgets updating their software, and home devices such as Amazon’s Alexa products, playing a role in both mediating communication, and pushing and pulling information between the human world and the online repositories of digital files and products.

The world is now characterised by news and social media platforms’ intent on delivering alternative facts, fake news and fake research results. Alongside this they harvest insights through algorithms that analyse our online behaviours and preferences.  ‘Big data’ becomes big business driven by a global internet machine which if we are not careful will support the interests of ‘the few not the many’ (to turn around an overused party-political phrase!). So, what are our options for creating a future where we can retain a sense of identity, values and freedoms?  I certainly do not claim to have the solutions to such huge global challenges facing society, but offer three suggestions to the ICT4D community, all of which underpin the way knowledge can be created and shared in a digital age:

  1. Support ‘Openness’. Open models are discussed in the book Open Development (Smith and Reilly, 2013). These approaches have their challenges and total openness is likely to be unachievable, as systems are rarely totally open. However, open approaches support a different knowledge economy agenda that is more inclusive, accessible and aimed at addressing inequalities.
  2. Advocate for ‘Net Neutrality’. This principle and why it is so important is explained effectively in YouTube videos by Common Craft and Now this. Retaining total net neutrality may not be realistic. However, the principle of equitable access to internet based services is one of huge significance in determining how the internet develops and how knowledge is created and shared. If net neutrality is sacrificed, inequalities in terms of access and usage will flourish in the digital world.
  3. Develop skilled and trusted ‘knowledge intermediaries’. More and more information is held digitally. It is increasingly challenging to validate and assess the quality of what is found on the Internet. Skilled data scientists and information management professionals are in a sense the new librarians. We need trusted experts who work to provide knowledge as a public good for civil society, so that we can hold governments and big corporations to account, and access knowledge openly that enables us and our children to gain the best education and quality of life that we can.

We face what at times appear to be irresistible and negative forces, where freedoms are under threat and security and surveillance is growing.  Yet, the world is now a far more connected place, and writing this in Yangon, I reflect that the scope for interacting with and learning from people, from diverse locations, cultures and backgrounds, is growing day by day.  As ordinary people develop connections through their use of ICTS, they can seek to be more empowered and create an open movement and strong voice that can help lead us all to a brighter future.

The ICT4D community is well placed to ensure that ICTs are used for future good. I recommend developing skills in the foresight approach as a means to understand and shape the future. In some of my own work with Development Dreamers I have been experimenting with lighter versions of the foresight approach and will be happy to network and collaborate with others who have an interest in this.

 

SDG Stories: UNESCO Chair contributing on sustainability of ICT systems

e_sdg-goals_icons-individual-rgb-09In the run-up to this year’s UN General Assembly, the Office of the DG of the UN Office in Geneva has launched a novel initiative on big conversations driving the big goals of the SDGs as part of their Perception Change Project.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is delighted to have been invited to participate in this initiative, alongside other leading figures in the ICT4D world including Houlin Zhao (SG of the ITU, and one of our Honorary Patrons), Kathy Calvin (President and CEIO, UN Foundation), and Nicholas Negroponte (Founder MIT Media Lab).

Our stories are about the question “What are the biggest hopes and challenges we face in providing reliable ICT access to communities as we work towards improved sustainable development?

This was my response:

Seeing the eyes of a group of street children in Ethiopia light up when I let them play with my laptop in February 2002 convinced me in an instant of the potential of technology to be used effectively for learning by some of the poorest people in the world.  However, the plethora of global initiatives that have been designed to use ICTs to contribute to reducing poverty through economic growth over the last 15 years have had the consequence of dramatically increasing inequality at the same time.  The poorest and most marginalised have not benefited sufficiently from the promise of ICTs.

Few people pay appropriate attention to the dark side of technology, and yet we must understand this, and change it, if this potential is fully to be realised for all.  In the context of the SDGs, there is a fundamental challenge.  To be sure ICTs can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, but few people sufficiently highlight their unsustainability: ICTs have seriously negative environmental impacts, and their usual business model is built on a fundamentally unsustainable logic.  In terms of environmental impact, for example, they have contributed to substantially increased electricity demand, and the amount of waste in space is now presenting very serious threats to future satellite deployment.  The business model, whereby people are encouraged to replace their mobile phones every couple of years, and new hardware often requires the next generation of software, which in turn then requires new hardware, is good for business, but not for sustainability.

If we are serious about using ICTs for sustainable development, we must do much more to address negative aspects such as these, so that the poorest individuals, communities and countries can indeed benefit.

Follow the stories at: http://www.sdgstories.com, or on Twitter using #sdgstories.

Artificial Intelligence for Good

Volume 2    Issue 8    August 2017

In June, together with more than 500 experts in Artificial Intelligence (AI), I participated in the “AI for Good” Global Summit. Organised in Geneva by the ITU and the XPRIZE Foundation, the summit focused on a crucial and timely question: Can AI contribute to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the UN has set to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all?

As an expert in automated decision-making, I know first-hand that AI is a uniquely powerful and transformative technology. AI can have a huge impact not only to further the progress of the wealthy countries, but also to foster the advancement of developing nations. For example, AI can teach people new skills and support lifelong learning. At the same time, the development of AI raises ethical and societal challenges for AI experts and policy-makers, who share the responsability to deploy an AI technology that is safe, reliable and fair.

Why is AI so special? As observed by Stephen Cave during the Summit, AI is a tool different from any other because of three crucial aspects: (i) AI is a universal tool, which will be soon incorporated in all other technologies (e.g. self-driving cars, smart homes, robotics, personalised medicine); (ii) AI can accelerate its own development, besides the development of other tools (e.g. machine learning is an AI tool that can improve itself as well as other AI algorithms); and (iii) AI is autonomous (AI agents make and implement decisions without constant human intervention). In addition, AI is based on data, which are often collected from people and contain sensitive information about them. Considering all these factors together, it becomes clear why AI generates excitement but also concern.

In the last few years, I have focused on the development of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for surveillance and disaster response applications. I have formulated techniques based on task planning and probabilistic reasoning to make UAVs smart enough to fly autonomously and strategically to achieve sophisticated goals specified by domain experts over a large geographical area and a long temporal horizon. The potential of intelligent vehicles in emergency scenarios is enormous as resources are limited and time is critical. However, these are challenging situations in which decisions can have a life-changing impact and human operators need to trust the machines and understand their behaviour.

At the Summit, Professor Virginia Dignum formulated three principles on which AI development should be based, which I find particularly relevant:

  • Accountability: an AI system needs to to be able to justify its own decisions based on the algorithms and the data used by it. We have to equip AI systems with the moral values and societal norms that are used in the context in which these systems operate;
  • Responsibility: although AI systems are autonomous, their decisions should be linked to all the stakeholders who contributed in developing them: manufacturers, developers, users and owners. All of them will be responsible for the system’s behaviou;
  • Transparency: users need to be able to inspect and verify the algorithms and data used by the system to make and implement decisions.

I would like to conclude with a provocative remark that Professor Gary Marcus brought to the table during the Summit and that I share: are we really so close to Strong AI  as many people seem to think, where “Strong AI” means a system that exhibits integration between all aspects of intelligence: common sense, planning, reasoning, analogy, language and perception? I believe that, although AI can truly change the world, we still need fundamental advances first. Key to achieve them are interdisciplinarity and global collaboration. In particular, I would welcome multi-disciplinary collaborations to make UAVs and drones truly effective in disaster response scenarios.

Identification for Development: Benefits and Challenges

Volume 2    Issue 7    July 2017

Over the past nine months, we have been listening to the experiences of lower income individuals with identity systems in India, together with the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (as a research partner), Storythings and the Langtons (as communication experts), and funded by Omidyar Network. We have conducted 150 interviews across rural and urban sites in Karnataka, New Delhi and surrounding Uttar Pradesh, and Assam.  We observed identity-based transactions (such as getting an Aadhaar card, buying a SIM card, being tested for a disability certificate), had a heated radio discussion, and great workshops in Delhi, Bengaluru, Washington DC and Stockholm (at SIF) for input. Our aim was to understand user experiences of identity in a digital world  – what do individuals experience, what are the pain points, how can we move towards more inclusive systems which respect privacy, agency and dignity? All these are particularly relevant in India, where Aadhaar is currently a contentious topic.

Many of our interviewees spoke of the benefit of ID systems – an Aadhaar card which enabled benefits and services; a ration card which allowed subsidized food, kerosene and medicine. On the other hand, at a time when Aadhaar memes are being shared on how it is effectively compulsory, we asked questions on privacy, exclusion, bias and repercussions for groups such as senior citizens dependent on Aadhaar verification for pensions. These concerns are not unique to Aadhaar or the Indian context of course. There have been quite a few reports on identification exclusion in the United States, including immigrants, those homeless and out of prison in Ohio, the story of Alice Faith Pennington in Texas, and the intermediaries who are trying to help those in a catch 22 situation without IDs.

We heard many concerns around all the above.

  • Several women spoke of feeling uncomfortable in “male spaces” and sluggish bureaucracy impacting more on them because of impact on time needed for family care. Men often acted on behalf of women.
  • Non-formal migrants were particularly affected by requirements such as a permanent address, not knowing local networks for help etc.
  • A visually challenged teacher told us about the long process of getting both a blind and disability certificate and that in addition, when he went to get an Aadhaar card, he was pushed about and there was no help.
  • An HIV/AIDS activist laid out his concerns around Aadhaar being necessary to obtain anti-retroviral [ART] drugs: “now what has happened in HIV-positive communities, in all the ART centres, only if we have Aadhaar cards, the ART box is given. They are making it compulsory. Due to this, our identity of HIV positive is being shown. Now that Aadhaar is compulsory, few people don’t even have Aadhaar and even if they do, and because it is linked to everything, their fear has increased. It is already a stigmatised condition. Who have they asked before doing this? Have they asked our opinion?”
  • A transgender activist was highly critical of invasive identification for “screening committees” for transgender certificates.

Identification processes are not new. But the introduction of networked systems has introduced two major challenges: the huge impact if there are any mistakes; and secondly data is more easily accessible to many more people. Again, this is not unique to India, but the burden of proving you are lies heavily on individuals and impacts even more on those who don’t have time or resources to do so.

While we agree with the above World Bank Principles (and we are cautious of generalizing from 150 interviews), we still saw confusion around processes, and what individuals perceived as an opaque state, leading to the rise of intermediaries – some helpful, others exploitative. We need more evidence on “user” needs and concerns; stronger citizen’s rights with regards to identification processes, and more efficient and effective grievance redressal. In the words of the transgender activist: “when there is an identity card, it has to be beneficial for the people of the community. We do not want cards which create problems for the community.”

http://www.identitiesproject.com