At the world’s largest ML conference, UN Global Pulse co-hosts AI for Social Good workshop

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This week, we’re attending the Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) conference in Vancouver, one of the premier machine learning gatherings in the world, with around 13,000 people joining this year. Global Pulse is co-hosting a workshop on AI for Social Good on Saturday, the 14th of December. 

Humanity has been debating the promises and perils of artificial intelligence since the beginning of the 20th century, initially through the lens of science fiction. Yet it was only with the advent of big data that AI truly began to deliver on its promise. Technologies such as deep learning already represent incredible opportunities for improving the lives of people everywhere. Simply put, applications of artificial intelligence — from automation to predictive analytics to smart public services — have a vital role to play in accelerating the achievement of the SDGs.  

At the same time, however, the technology is also associated with known risks:  it can be used to widen the inequality gap, fuel discrimination and persecution, manipulate political processes, generate highly plausible false information, and disrupt the job market.  

NeurIPS is an annual meeting aimed to foster the exchange of research on neural information processing systems in their biological, technological, mathematical, and theoretical aspects. For this year some 10,000 papers were submitted and 1,400 were accepted and will be presented during poster sessions.

To further the conversation and spur action around the use of technology for the benefit of people everywhere, Global Pulse is helping organize a workshop on AI for Social Good. Gathering the best and brightest minds in the industry, the one-day workshop will focus on three specific tracks that can help advance sustainable development, humanitarian action, and peace: ‘Producing good outcomes’, ‘From malicious use to responsible AI’ and  ‘Public policy.’

Conference proceedings at events like NeurIPS are becoming increasingly large; think that in order to read every paper presented here this year, you would have to read 43 pages a day, everyday, for the next year.

We are hoping to refocus the AI for Good research on making an impact by encouraging authors to discuss ways in which their work can be deployed through partnering with public sector and by highlighting potential barriers and limiting factors to their methodologies. As such, we have categorized the papers we’ll be presenting during our workshop by the Goals they aim to target. This should allow practitioners to more easily search and retrieve information that is relevant to their own work and which they can apply to projects on the ground. 

The field of AI and data science for the public good has grown significantly over the past few years, with more workshops and conferences being organized and an increasing number of researchers and practitioners wanting to be involved. 

See here an ever growing list of institutions and events focussing on data for good.

This year alone, Global Pulse has been involved in the ITU AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva, the Digital Aid workshop hosted by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund, and the ICML and NeurIPS AI for Social Good workshops. Moreover, alongside the AI for Social Good workshop, this year at NeuIPS we are also seeing an increase in the number of specialised workshops aimed to foster innovation for the SDGs: AI for Climate Change, AI for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response, Machine Learning for the Developing World, Machine Learning for Health and Minding the Gap: Between Fairness and Ethics

The attention and enthusiasm for the topic are certainly cause for reveling. However, there remains a gap in information flow between public sector and academia. In order for these workshops to become providers of research to the practitioner community, we may need to redefine their format, which is what Global Pulse and others are doing at NeurIPS. 

If you’re attending the conference this year, come along and join us on Saturday. It promises to be an exciting schedule! 

If you’d like to meet with us, reach out to Joseph Bullock (@JosephPBullock) and Miguel Luengo-Oroz (@litonidas) from UN Global Pulse via Twitter or the conference app. Joseph is our AI research fellow who serves as Track Chair of the ‘Producing Good Outcomes.’ Miguel is our chief data scientist, and will be giving a talk about our work during the workshop and be sitting on a panel on AI for Sustainable Development. 

The article was edited by Felicia Vacarelu, Communication Specialist with Global Pulse.

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News, thoughts and ideas about big data and AI, data privacy and ethics from across the Pulse Lab Network. Read more on the blog.

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