In a collaborative effort, representatives from 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 convened a ministerial side event during the United Nations’ 78th Session High-Level Week in New York City on Monday. The event, which included participation from India, the United Nations System, the OECD, leading AI firms, universities, and civil society organisations, focused on the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With the SDG agenda at a pivotal juncture, AI advancements present fresh opportunities for the global community to make significant strides. The representatives emphasised the responsible and secure use of AI to tackle society’s most pressing challenges.
Key players from notable organisations such as Amazon, Anthropic, Carnegie Mellon University, Google, IBM, Inflection AI, Meta, Microsoft, OpenAI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Schmidt Futures, along with their global partners, showcased tangible AI applications that could drive progress towards achieving the SDGs. These applications encompassed health, education, food security, energy, and climate action.
“We’re helping to lead the way forward on AI governance,” remarked US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
“Just over the past year, we’ve built a Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights to guide how automated systems are actually used as well as designed. We published an AI Risk Management Framework to improve AI user protections. We issued a set of voluntary commitments, developed with the top AI companies – including those with us today – to increase safety, to increase security, to increase trust for advanced AI systems. More leading companies are getting on board: seven additional companies joined this framework, these voluntary commitments, just this past week,” the secretary added.
Focus On AI’s Benefits
During the event, distinguished figures from the United Nations System and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development delved into the potential of AI to accelerate advancements across economic development, public health, and gender equality.
Participants acknowledged that effective and responsible deployment of AI holds the promise of fostering inclusive and sustainable growth. This includes poverty and inequality reduction, environmental sustainability, and overall improvement of lives, empowering individuals across societies and stages of development. However, concerns were also noted, acknowledging the risk of leaving the developing world behind as AI rapidly progresses and the potential for exacerbating inequalities and biases if not managed responsibly and inclusively.
The event reinforced the importance of:
- Ensuring global benefits from AI development and deployment.
- Inclusive discussions on applying AI for the SDGs.
- Responsible governance for realising AI benefits.
Forming partnerships between governments, the private sector, and various stakeholders, including civil society, to harness AI responsibly for accelerating SDG progress.
- Encouraging powerful AI capabilities’ developers to focus on SDG-related goals.
- Encouraging countries and AI companies to align their strategies and plans with the SDGs.
- Establishing enabling frameworks for education, awareness, and responsible governance to shape an inclusive and rights-oriented AI future.
At the event, co-convening countries announced commitments, including financial assistance, investment in AI startups, education initiatives, and collaborations to support responsible AI governance. Private sector participants also pledged significant financial support, scholarship programs, and technology contributions to foster AI skills and address societal issues. These commitments aim to positively impact millions of lives globally over the next five years.
Big Tech’s Big Commitment
Google has committed $10 million to fund projects utilising AI to aid victims of natural disasters and climate change. The company has a longstanding dedication to leveraging AI for positive impact, having contributed over $200 million to support NGOs and create an ethical, safe, and robust AI ecosystem.
OpenAI has announced financial and API commitments exceeding $1 million and is providing in-kind world-class technical support. These resources are aimed at catalyzing and scaling organisations worldwide that are developing AI-powered tools to drive progress toward achieving the UN sustainable development goals. OpenAI is partnering with Turn.io to establish a new accelerator supporting social impact organisations in deploying LLM-powered solutions. Additionally, OpenAI plans to collaborate with the GitLab Foundation to offer similar rewards to select organisations building AI-powered tools that enhance economic mobility through GitLab Foundation’s AI for Economic Opportunity grant program. Through these collective efforts, OpenAI aims to make a positive impact on millions of lives globally over the next five years.
IBM is committing to training two million learners in AI within three years to help bridge the global AI skills gap, with a specific focus on underrepresented communities worldwide. The initiative involves launching new generative AI coursework through IBM SkillsBuild and expanding AI education partnerships with universities and non-profit organisations globally. This initiative builds on IBM’s existing programs and platforms, providing improved access to AI education and high-demand technical roles.
Microsoft has committed to training and certifying two million individuals in AI skills for the digital economy this year. The company has already supported 325,000 nonprofits and UN organisations with Microsoft AI and cloud solutions. Microsoft intends to double the number of organisations it serves with essential cloud, data, and AI technology to accelerate SDG impacts. As part of this commitment, Microsoft is introducing the Digital Development Program, aimed at assisting governments and citizens in the most vulnerable countries with digital services. This initiative is part of Microsoft’s broader philanthropic efforts, which included discounted and donated technology worth $3.8 billion last year. Microsoft will continue to invest in its AI for Good lab, a team of top-tier data scientists in Africa, South America, and North America applying AI to address societal challenges such as disaster response, food security, conservation, and human rights.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has introduced the AI & ML Scholarship program, an annual $10 million education and scholarship initiative designed to prepare underrepresented and underserved students globally for careers in machine learning. Since its inception in 2021, the program has awarded $15 million in scholarships to 3,000 students from over 85 countries, including 47 from countries in the global south. The 2023 program application window is set to close this month, with an additional 1,000 students receiving $5 million in scholarships to enhance their understanding of foundational ML concepts, supporting their pursuit of AI-related careers. The program offers hands-on learning and mentorship opportunities for students to apply ML skills to address relevant issues. The AWS Future Self series highlights the experiences of selected program participants, such as Olympiah Otieno, a 2022 scholarship recipient from Nairobi, Kenya, who is developing a mobile app utilising image classification to enhance crop yields for her community.
Looking ahead, participants committed to ongoing collaboration to ensure safe and inclusive AI access worldwide, particularly in developing countries. They will continue sharing information on AI concepts and tools to drive progress toward achieving sustainable goals.
This event underscores the global commitment to directing attention, resources, and efforts towards leveraging AI to accelerate progress on the world’s most ambitious and critical goals.
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