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Artificial Intelligence for Accelerating Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: Addressing Society’s Greatest Challenges

On September 18, 2023, Japan, the Republic of Kenya, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Republic of Singapore, the Kingdom of Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America co-convened in New York City a ministerial side event during the United Nations’ 78th Session High Level Week.  Ministers from the con-convening countries, in addition to speakers from India, United Nations System, the OECD, leading AI firms, universities, and civil society organizations, focused on artificial intelligence’s (AI) potential to accelerate progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Efforts to achieve the SDGs are at a crossroads, and AI developments present new opportunities for the global community to act.  Representatives from governments, AI developers, and members of the multistakeholder community committed to the safe, secure, and trustworthy use of AI to tackle society’s greatest challenges.

During the event, representatives from Amazon, Anthropic, Carnegie Mellon University, Google, IBM, Inflection AI, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Schmidt Futures with their partners from around the world demonstrated concrete applications of AI that could advance our progress in achieving the SDGs, including applications focused on health, education, food security, energy, and climate action.

Representatives from the United Nations System – Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund Natalia Kanem, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology Amandeep Singh Gill, and Dr. Alain Labrique is the Director for the Department of Digital Health and Innovation at the World Health Organization – and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Deputy Secretary General Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen discussed AI’s prospects for accelerating progress on areas ranging from economic development to public health and gender equality.

Participants acknowledged that if AI is deployed effectively and harnessed responsibly, it promises to drive inclusive and sustainable growth–reducing poverty and inequality, advancing environmental sustainability, improving lives, and empowering individuals in all societies across all stages of development.  They also recognized concerns the developing world could be left behind as AI advances rapidly, and that the technology has the potential to exacerbate inequality, entrench bias, and disrupt societies if not designed and developed responsibly and inclusively.  Participants acknowledged:

  • All parts of the world should benefit from AI developments and deployment.
  • Conversations about how to apply AI towards the SDGs should be inclusive.
  • To realize the benefits of AI, the technology must be governed responsibly.
  • Partnership between governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders, including civil society, represents the best opportunity to responsibly harness AI to accelerate progress on the SDGs.
  • Developers of powerful new AI capabilities should harness the technology to help accelerate progress on the UN SDGs.
  • Countries and AI companies should include SDG-related goals in their strategies and plans.
  • The realization of an inclusive and rights-oriented AI future requires creating enabling frameworks for education, awareness raising, and responsible governance, among other areas.

In New York, co-convening countries announced the following commitments:

  • Secretary Blinken announced, working with Congress, to provide $15 million in assistance to promote the responsible use and governance of AI globally, among other objectives, to include programs that leverage AI tools to help countries achieve SDGs.
  • The Kingdom of Spain announced the increase of the Next-Tech public-private VC Fund to a total budget of 8 billion euros to invest in AI and deep tech-driven startups and scaleup projects; the deployment of a Programme for Green AI and AI for Green with a budget of 300 million euros; the establishment of an National Agency on AI; support of international efforts for global AI governance; and an agreement with the Bank of Development of Latin America to launch a specific Green and Digital Cooperation Fund for Latin America of 300 million euros.
  • The UK, host of the AI Safety Summit in November 2023, announced £1.07 million for the Complex Risk Analytics Fund (‘CRAF’d’), a first-of-a-kind fund that will harness the power of artificial intelligence to help countries and global organisations predict conflicts and humanitarian crises before they happen. The Fund will also provide support to countries when crises do occur, so they can more quickly respond, recover and return onto a path of sustainable development.
  • Japan shared its experience of using AI to optimize supply and demand balance stability in the domestic renewable energy sector as an example of creating synergies across several sustainable development goals. It committed to continue to lead discussions on international AI governance, including the G7 Hiroshima AI Process. Japan will listen to a wide range of opinions from various stakeholders, for example, by taking advantage of the Internet Governance Forum this coming October. Japan also shared its efforts in human resource development related to AI in developing countries and committed to accelerate efforts including investment in people in developing countries.

Participating companies announced the following commitments:

  • Google announced $10 million for projects that use AI to help victims of natural disasters and climate change.  Google has long backed efforts to use AI for good, contributing more than $200 million to support NGOs and the creation of an ethical, safe, and robust AI ecosystem.
  • OpenAI is announcing more than $1 million in financial and API commitments, as well as in-kind contribution of world-class technical support, to catalyze and scale organizations around the world building AI-powered tools to advance progress toward achieving the UN sustainable development goals. OpenAI and Turn.io will collaborate to develop a new accelerator to support social impact organizations in the design and deployment of LLM-powered solutions.  OpenAI also plans to partner with the GitLab Foundation to offer similar prizes to select organizations building AI powered tools to improve economic mobility through GitLab Foundation’s AI for Economic Opportunity grant program. Through these combined initiatives and the organizations, they will support, OpenAI aims to positively impact millions of lives around the world over the next five years.
  • IBM announced a commitment to train two million learners in AI in three years to help close the global artificial intelligence (AI) skills gap, with a focus on underrepresented communities across the world. IBM plans to launch new generative AI coursework through IBM SkillsBuild and expand AI education collaborations with universities and non-profit partners worldwide. This will build upon IBM’s existing programs and career-building platforms to offer enhanced access to AI education and in-demand technical roles.
  • Microsoft is committing this year to train and certify two million people with AI skills in the digital economy and has supported 325,000 nonprofits and UN organizations with Microsoft AI and cloud solutions. Microsoft will also double the number of organizations that it serves with critical cloud, data, and AI technology they need to accelerate SDG impacts. As part of this effort, Microsoft is announcing a significant new element – the Digital Development Program – which will be aimed at supporting governments and citizens in the most vulnerable countries with digital services.  This is part of Microsoft’s overall philanthropic work, which last year included discounted and donated $3.8 billion worth of technology in support of this mission. Microsoft will also continue its investment in its AI for Good lab, a team of world-class data scientists in Africa, South America, and North America who apply AI in addressing societal issues. These include disaster response, food security, conservation, and human rights.
  • Amazon Web Services announced the AI & ML Scholarship program, a $10 million annual education and scholarship program designed to prepare underrepresented and underserved students globally for careers in machine learning. Since its launch in 2021, 3,000 students from over 85 countries, 47 of which are countries from the global south, have been awarded $15 million in scholarships. This month the 2023 program application window will close with another 1,000 students receiving $5 million in scholarships to upskill students on foundational ML concepts to support their pursuit of careers in AI. The program provides hands-on learning and mentorship for students to apply ML skills to address issues relevant to them. The AWS Future Self series documents the experiences of select program participants. One such example is Olympiah Otieno, a 2022 scholarship recipient from Nairobi, Kenya who is developing a mobile app that uses image classification to improve crop yield for her community.

Going forward, participants commit to continuing to work together to promote safe and inclusive access to AI around the world, with a particular focus on developing countries. They will continue to share information about AI concepts and tools that advance progress toward achieving the sustainable goals.

This high-level engagement demonstrates that countries and companies around the world are committed to ensuring that global attention, resources, and efforts to advance AI are directed to accelerate progress on the world’s most ambitious and pressing goals.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/artificial-intelligence-for-accelerating-progress-on-the-sustainable-development-goals-addressing-societys-greatest-challenges/

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