Izzy Ferrandez, Founder GreenFeast at Internet Governance Forum 2019 #IGF2019
My name is Izzy Ferrandez and I have recently returned from Berlin, where I represented the global youth perspective on the impact of AI and Big Data on Human Rights at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2019 on the invitation of UNESCO.
Part of the panel required a five-minute presentation on my stance relating to the six main questions posed by the organisers:
- What are the core human rights in relation to big data and AI?
- How to address specific concerns regarding freedom of expression and access to information and privacy?
- How to ensure that data used by algorithms for decision-making is representative? How to develop built-in mechanisms for monitoring discrimination based on data and algorithms?
- How to mitigate and prevent the digital divide from widening further in relation to big data and AI development?
- How should a multi-stakeholder approach be put in place at national and international levels, to formulate inclusive policy options for harnessing AI and big data?
- How to strengthen access to data to reduce entry barriers for new startups?
This topic is very important to me because AI is one of the most fundamental developments in human history, and one with the potential to have an immeasurable impact on not just the human race, but the planet. Experts have been talking about AI since the 50’s, but only recently have we come out of the AI winter, as enough computational power has become available to really take advantage of it. Before then, it was all theoretical and few had thought of the ethical implications.
It is only in recent years that large companies have started having whole departments for ethics, because they are seeing the impact AI can have, on areas such as the social divide, lack of diversity and social mobility. However, AI also applies outside of the human race; we need to consider how we use AI to help the planet, other species and make sure that our gains do not create losses further down the line.
Whilst great strides are being made in the industry when it comes to the ethics of AI, I believe it is imperative to educate young people on this. AI is going to be such a huge part of our future, everyone will need to understand it, even if they don’t join the tech sector they will almost definitely use AI or work alongside someone who uses it. Although I was lucky enough to be part of the Teens in AI accelerator, where I learned about both AI and ethics hand in hand, this opportunity is not available to most of my generation whilst there are those who have the capacity and willingness to learn but are not given opportunities due to not having parents or mentors with tech backgrounds.
I believe that when schools start teaching AI, they will need to make ethics a core subject, as the two go together. Living in a world with not only obvious societal bias but also an unconscious bias that afflicts us all. We need to have an ‘ethical framework’ and universal standards to ensure that the data we use to train our models is impartial and separate from society’s prejudices. However, in the long term, a fundamental change needs to happen within ourselves, as data is only a reflection of us.
Whilst data bias will be an important issue in the future, we need to take action on “voting under the influence” as one of my fellow speakers, Professor Robert Krimmer, referred to. In the recent past and even today, Big Data and AI are being used to undermine democratical processes and sway voters using both misinformation and disinformation. The consequences of this cannot be understated and there needs to be an ethical framework for the application and creation of AI as, in the end, it is a powerful tool that can do as much harm as good. AI is not the threat, it is who is using it and why they are using it. For further context on this, I recommend watching Carole Cadwalladr’s excellent TED talk:
Since I was given that opportunity with Teens in AI, I co-founded Greenfeast, a startup that aims to change people’s shopping habits to more carbon-efficient and ethical choices by using Machine Learning to make alternative recommendations to their usual shopping basket. This is a very data-heavy problem and the data we need is held by large retailers who are very reluctant to share it with us, which makes us spend more time negotiating access to data than building an effective model.
Policy-enabled links between industry, education and government will determine that in the long term AI and Big Data will be applied more ethically, with our best future in mind. And in my opinion, the quickest route to this future is by educating my generation about these issues.
This was a unique yet challenging experience because I got to talk to prominent policymakers and government representatives but also visited Berlin, a city rich in history, and The Wall just days after the 3oth anniversary of its fall. I would like to thank Elena Sinel for the amazing work she does at Teens in AI; Xianhong Hu and Yahia Dabbous from UNESCO for organising the event and going out of their way to make me feel comfortable.
This is only the beginning of my journey and I look forward to where it will take me. AI is the future, my future, my generation’s future.