AI’s impact on UN sustainable goals

Published: January 14, 2020

Artificial intelligence (AI) represents a powerful but double-edged sword as nations confront global warming, poverty and issues of peace and justice. An international team of scientists, among them Virginia Dignum, scientific director of WASP-HS, has released a first-ever study of how AI can help – as well as hinder – sustainable development worldwide.

Published in Nature Communications, the analysis focuses on how AI impacts the 17 goals for sustainable development (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015. The study was co-authored by a diverse group of researchers, among them Virginia Dignum, scientific director of WASP-HS and professor of AI Ethics at Umeå University.

The group was led by Ricardo Vinuesa and Francesco Fuso Nerini, assistant professors at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Beside Virginia Dignum they were joined by Max Tegmark, professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and several other authors.

“AI has the potential to contribute to the realisation of many of the SDGs but we also need to take into account potential risks of using AI. Transparency and accountability regarding AI is important in technological development, regulation and policy, as well as to decide the ethical standards to which AI-based technology should be subjected to,” Virginia Dignum says.

“AI is already changing everyone’s lives in different ways,” says Francesco Fuso-Nerini. “This analysis provides the basis for a needed dialogue on what kind of future humanity should aim for with AI,” Vinuesa says.

The study offers guidelines for how to navigate the benefits and risks of applying AI solutions to these top world challenges, referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which take aim at 169 individual targets running the gamut from economy and society to environment.

The research results show that 134 of these targets could benefit from AI, while another 59 goals would not. Calculated as a percentage, AI has a positive impact of 79 percent.

Read the article The role of artificial intelligence in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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