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Rev. Liberato Bautista, CoNGO at the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference

What if AI were directed towards achieving the SDGs? Rev. LIBERATO BAUTISTA, President of CoNGO, the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations, posed this question during the First Session of the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference.



Artificial intelligence is fast-moving and expensive for struggling economies to fund. Unless regulated, it will leave others behind, widening already existing social, digital, and gender gaps and inequalities.


A holistic approach is needed, but even more so, one that ingrains human rights and social justice values to ensure e-welfare for all. In a world where fear is in excess and hope is in deficit, the use of technologies, including AI, when they multiply further such fear and deflate already little hope, does not augur well with the achievement of peace and prosperity for people and the planet, the SDGs and the Agenda 2030.


READ THE FULL STATEMENT!


“Thank you, Mr. Civili. Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank Pierpaolo Saporito, the President of OCCAM, and the intellectual architect, he is a real architect, he is also the real, the intellectual architect behind the Infopoverty Conferences, for including me and the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with the United Nations again in this conference. As far as I remember, Pierpaolo, this must be my 10th participation in the 23 conferences that you've held, and I'm deeply honored.
This year's Infopoverty World Conference theme continues the orientation towards human rights, global solidarity, and e-welfare, which are crucial if we address what this year's, conference's objectives describe as critical gaps, naming among other gaps in food security, health, and education. I cannot agree more. The twin foci of eliminating hunger and eradicating poverty, which will be addressed in the next session, distilled to me the 17 SDGs into a framework that matters to humanity's survival and the planet's sustainability. Hunger and poverty, peace and sustainability are words comprehensible, if not digestible, to ordinary people experiencing economic hardships, political instabilities, and social and health inequalities.
How exciting it would be if AI were oriented to achieving these. The digitization of information and the digitalization of knowledge must be oriented to the specific proposition that is communications justice and the larger social justice project. AI is fast-moving and expensive for struggling economies to fund. Unless regulated, it will leave others behind, widening already existing social, digital, and gender gaps and inequalities. Indigenous peoples, for example, whose indigenous knowledge is actively digitally archived are asking, with no electricity and computers on our reservation, will we have access again in the future to our knowledge base, which is being digitalized? Some young people in Africa are asking their government. They're actually suing them. By digitalizing information on the SDGs, isn't it a violation of human rights if we did not have electronic access to such information due to the lack of electricity and computers in our homes and villages?
As this panel suggests, a holistic approach is needed, but even more so, one that ingrains human rights and social justice values to ensure e-welfare for all. Could AI be harnessed to achieve such ends? The theme and arguments of this opening panel point to the necessity of a holistic approach to AI, recognizing that it presents both risks and opportunities for human well-being. I am intrigued, dear Pierpaolo, with the use of the word turmoil in the conference's theme, indicating to me and the description of the panel the predominant use of AI in welfare, and I add, compared to welfare, the predominant use of AI in welfare and surveillance compared to its use in welfare.
How can we use ICTs, including AI, in the service of humanity? How can we use these technologies to serve humanity and people's longings for economic justice, human rights, participatory democracy, and more? In a world where fear is in excess and hope is in deficit, the use of technologies, including AI, when they multiply further such fear and deflate already little hope, does not augur well with the achievement of peace and prosperity for people and the planet, the SDGs and the Agenda 2030.
Such thinking is on the agenda of CoNGO, the conference of NGOs, for which I am the president. When it meets on April 28, two weeks from now, in Bangkok on the site of the meeting of the UN Economic and Social, UNESCO, a panel will address the topic of AI, artificial and yet real, exploring how AI might serve humanity's survival and the planet's sustainability. At the 2021 Infopoverty World Conference, I already posited that the digitization of knowledge and information and the digitalization of the same are fraught with moral and ethical considerations.
Talking about the digital divide and digital inequalities points to some of these moral and ethical issues because they intersect with larger economic, political, social, and cultural divides. Because communication is intrinsic to our humanity and the relations we build, the right to communication and access to information are basic human rights essential to human dignity and foundational to a just and democratic society. Building a future with technologies including AI, which is changing by the second, and a future besieged by intersecting health and social pandemics is commendable at best and mission impossible at worst.
I am pleased that both CoNGO and OCCAM are conduits of the ongoing multilateral processes arising from the World Summit on Information Society. We have joined forces in the past at the annual WSIS forums in Geneva. CoNGO welcomes, as does OCCAM, the UN General Assembly resolution on seizing the opportunities of safe, secure, and trustworthy artificial intelligence systems for sustainable development, just issued recently on the 21st of March. I hope today's deliberations provide input to the summit of the future in September, including the zero draft of the pact for the future, but also to weigh in on the crafting of the digital compact. It's about our future, and that future is not in the singular. It's many futures, and we must weigh in on those futures. CoNGO, for its part, is drafting a working paper on the summit of the future with the placeholder title, The Present in the Future Tense, The Grammar and Implements of a Just, Peaceable, Inclusive, and Sustainable Future. We will be meeting in May in Geneva to finalize and approve this statement.
Ladies and gentlemen, in closing, the ethical lenses I have raised are subsidiary but intrinsic values to information communications technology, justice, sustainability, and participatory democracy, are ethical values at the core of the voice and agency of human beings who are conscious producers as much as consumers of digitalized knowledge. A strong moral compass is needed for digital communication to the ethical true north, whose elements constitute the respect for peace and the fundamental values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, shared responsibility, and respect for nature. Ladies and gentlemen, the digital society we prosper ought to foster a peaceful and secure future for all. I am excited about this year's Infopoverty World Conference because it covers these topics and perhaps more as the day goes on. Thank you very much.” 

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The FINAL DECLARATION of the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference is now available! The Plan of Action including a list of projects and proposals that emerged from the discussion will be available soon. STAY TUNED!


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