AI - artificial or augmented human intelligence?


Every year UNESCO holds the MLW, placing the focus on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in education. Attracting more than 1,000 participants from 130 countries and including participants from all sectors, this year’s event was organized under the topic: Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Sustainable Development. In collaboration with the Section for Higher Education at UNESCO, IAU was pleased to lead one of the workshops examining the potential of AI in higher education, bringing the expertise and experience of IAU Members to the attention of conference delegates. To learn about IAU’s workshop, click here.


“AI” may be a buzzword, but many panelists agreed that the term is misleading, as it omits the centrality of humans. What is at the heart of this phenomenon is neither “artificial”, nor “intelligent”. Rather, it is about ethics, politics and humanity in general—how humans will develop machines and use technology to support humankind, whether this relates to detecting diseases or simply enhancing daily tasks. As Audrey Azoulay, the UNESCO Director General, aptly noted her opening keynote: “Artificial intelligence is not a questioning of technology, it is a questioning of our own humanity—scientific, political, philosophical, ethical questioning.”


As we move forward with AI, several issues are at stake. The notion of trust was mentioned during many presentations and panels, highlighting that if users do not trust AI systems, tools and products, these will not be able to live up to its potential. To generate an environment of trust, several panelists called for policies and guidelines that look at the ethical dimensions of AI that serve to protect human rights and foster transparency.


Another important aspect is the question of equality and inclusion, particularly in a world where only half of the population uses the internet. How to ensure that AI developments avoid exacerbating inequalities and that their benefits are made available to all? One speaker mentioned solidarity as an important underpinning of the global agenda. Risks identified during debates were often in relation to biases in algorithms, whether related to questions of gender, culture or language. While we seek to use the potential of AI to improve the human condition, we risk embedding our biases and thus perpetuating inequalities, rather than addressing them.


The main concern remains whether policy makers are ready to be bold and imaginative, whether they have the capacities to understand the issues at stake and adapt to a new reality, which will necessitate rethinking how our societies work. The alternative would be to leave it in the hands of companies that - in spite of their social corporate responsibility - are driven by commercial gain.


In effect, at the end of the day, it is about how humans develop machines, in order to support or augment human intelligence. It is up to us to shape the future of societies as well as higher education using technology for the benefit of all.


UNESCO is currently exploring the potential to develop a normative instrument for AI and ethics, and IAU is looking forward to following these developments. In parallel, we invite IAU Members to express interest or to provide suggestions about initiatives or activities for IAU in relation to AI.

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IAU blog on the role of technology in higher education 

International Association of Universities, UNESCO House, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris cedex 15, France

The International Association of Universities (IAU), created under the auspices of UNESCO in 1950, is a membership-based organisation serving the global higher education community through: expertise & trends analysis, publications & portals, advisory services, peer-to-peer learning, events, global advocacy.

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