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First Study of its Kind Examines the Impact of AI on UN Goals for Climate, Development and Global Stability

Posted January 14, 2020

This week, an international team of scientists have release the first study of its kind examining how the development of AI is likely to play out in terms of the global community’s efforts in addressing such problems as climate change and poverty, as well as issues related to peace and justice.

The study – co-authored by a diverse group of researchers from around the world and published in the journal Nature Communications – is chiefly concerned with how AI might impact the 17 goals for sustainable development adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

Sustainability - artistic impression. Image credit: annca via Pixabay (Free Pixabay licence)

Sustainability – artistic impression. Image credit: annca via Pixabay (Free Pixabay licence)

According to co-authors Francesco Fuso Nerini and Ricardo Vinuesa, assistant professors at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, AI is “already changing everyone’s lives in different ways” and this study provides a basis for a much needed dialogue regarding “what kind of future humanity should aim for” in this regard.

By looking at the impact of AI on UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the authors have found that AI may act as an enabler on 134 targets across all SDGs, while 59 targets may experience negative effects, giving AI an overall positive score of 79 per cent.

A visual depiction of sustainable development targets likely enabled and inhibited by the development of AI. Credit: KTH Royal Institute of Technology

The study shows that AI will likely be a tremendous ally in lifting people out of poverty, reducing energy consumption and promoting clean affordable energy. On the other hand, AI developed in the absence of ethical scrutiny, democracy and transparency will likely have a negative effect on political stability and justice, equality, elections and public sentiment towards minority groups.

Furthermore, when it comes to social media algorithms, the authors warn of an “underlying risk of prejudice when AI evaluates and predicts human behaviour”.

In order to minimise the negatives and emphasise the positives, the study advocates for the development of adequate policies and legislation frameworks intended to direct AI’s potential towards the best outcomes for individuals and the environment.

“Regulatory oversight should be preceded by regulatory insight, where policymakers have sufficient understanding of AI challenges to be able to formulate sound policy. Developing such insight is even more urgent than oversight, since policy formulated without understanding is likely to be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst,” said co-author on the study Max Tegmark from MIT.


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