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Safeguards needed to ensure AI systems are not misused

Artificial Intelligence, if harnessed properly, can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity, India has said, underscoring the need to ensure AI systems are not misused and that advancement of digital super intelligence must be symbiotic with humanity.

Speaking at a special event ‘Artificial Intelligence for Social Justice’, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj underlined that if harnessed properly, AI can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity, leading to vastly more productive and efficient economies.

The event was hosted by the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in partnership with NGO Foundation for Human Horizon at the UN headquarters on the occasion of the 132nd birth anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar here on Friday.

She said the Father of the Constitution of India had emphasised that all Indians, regardless of their caste, religion, or social status, should be treated equally, and enjoy equal rights and opportunities.

“And the Government of India’s motto ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas’ emphasises just that, a society where everyone should have equal opportunities to succeed, regardless of their background or circumstance.” She added that as the mid-term review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) beckons in September 2023, the international community needs to turbocharge the SDGs to ensure the social and economic development of one and all.

“How then can AI power social justice? How can AI overcome barriers and unleash opportunities for all,” she said.

“As true for any technology, there is a need to take required measures and put in place adequate safeguards to ensure that AI systems are not misused or guided by biases leading to discrimination. As said, the advance of digital super intelligence should be / must be symbiotic with humanity,” Kamboj added.

UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology Amandeep Singh Gill described Ambedkar as a “powerful symbol” and “torchbearer” of the fight for equity and justice for the downtrodden not just in India but all over the subcontinent.

He noted that while a lot has been accomplished since Babasaheb’s time through wise policies, affirmative action and community mobilisation in the fight against injustices, prejudice, hatred and discrimination, there is still a lot that has to change not just in India but everywhere.

“There is prejudice, there is injustice, there is discrimination, there is exploitation in the analog world. And what we do and build in the digital world cannot be separate from that. If our AI systems use data that reflects the existing injustices in the world, the prejudices, the hatred that is still out there, then we are just perpetuating that,” Gill said.

He added that if the digital systems are designed well, with a focus on responsible AI, and are based on unbiased data free from discrimination, then “perhaps we can use them as a tool to build social justice.” Gill further stressed that there is a lot of potential in AI for good which the UN system is also leveraging.

He cited examples of a team working with chilli farmers in eastern India and using the latest AI tools to help farmers and agriculture extension workers bring more productivity to farming practices as well as using AI to support health systems in northern India.

“These good applications will not come about on their own. And Babasaheb’s struggle is an example. You will have to craft norms. You will have to craft affirmative action…It will not happen automatically. It will require investments in all these areas.

Only then can the promise of AI be truly realised,” he said. Kamboj also highlighted that India’s commitment to using AI for social empowerment has “given us the idea to use it in the sectors of agriculture, healthcare, and education.” The Indian government has created AI algorithms to forecast agricultural yields, assisting farmers in making more informed decisions about their crops and lowering the chance of losses, she said adding that this has aided in enhancing farmers’ financial circumstances and advancing social justice in the agricultural industry.

On the medical front, AI is being employed to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of ailments in India’s underserved regions. She cited the example of the eSanjeevani scheme, which was launched in 2019 and aims to provide healthcare services to people in rural and remote areas of India, where access to healthcare is limited.

She noted that the Indian Government has started a number of programs to use AI to educate marginalised populations.

The Government has developed the ‘Diksha’ portal as a project to offer digital education to pupils in public schools all across the nation. Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Burhan Gafoor said Ambedkar was a “visionary” and his philosophy is captured in the Sustainable Development Goals “because we here at the United Nations believe in the idea that we should leave no one behind”, which is fundamentally is a principle of social justice, inclusion and equity.

Gafoor paid tribute to India, its leadership and its accomplishments in the area of technology and AI.

Noting that India has the highest number of people with AI skills, Gafoor said there are several countries around the world that can learn from India.

“Certainly we in Singapore are working very closely with India to learn from India’s experience but also in a small way to share our own experience,” he said.

He underlined that the starting point of AI must be the well-being of people. “It must be human-centric. And that is of course what is implied by the notion of social justice.” He added that AI as a means will not lead to the well-being of people by chance or by accident.

“It has to be deliberate. It has to be intentional. That is where governments have a role to play,” he said. PTI

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