It’s been a decade since UN Global Pulse was set up inside the office of the UN Secretary-General to unleash the power of big data and analytics to protect vulnerable populations. Much has changed since then, and the data innovation ecosystem continues to grow and mature in ways that have significant implications for the work conducted by the network of Pulse Labs.
Recognising the need to adapt our approach, UN Global Pulse embarked in 2019 on an internal exercise to understand how to continue to deliver optimal value for the organizations and communities we serve.
With renewed priorities, the initiative will increase the volume of innovations with potential for global impact, forge forward-thinking partnerships, create enabling policy frameworks, and accelerate the adoption of mainstream approaches in communities of practice.
This report provides an overview of the year’s work and highlights the impact we’ve achieved, laying the groundwork for a second decade of activity at UN Global Pulse.
UN Global Pulse is the UN Secretary-General’s initiative on big data and artificial intelligence (AI) for sustainable development, humanitarian action, and peace. It works through a network of innovation labs, called Pulse Labs, which operate in Jakarta, Indonesia, in Kampala, Uganda, and in New York at UN Headquarters.
The overarching objectives of UN Global Pulse are to:
Drive exploratory research on new insights that can be gleaned from unconventional data sources and artificial intelligence.
Assist UN entities, governments, and development partners in making better use of their data.
Advocate for the ethical use of data and technological platforms in line with the protection of individual privacy.
To better deliver on these objectives, UN Global Pulse identified three streams of activity to guide our future work. Starting in 2020, all deliverables will be benchmarked against this new strategy.
Work with the UN system, governments, academia, and private sector partners to discover, build, and pilot high-potential applications of big data and artificial intelligence for sustainable development, humanitarian action, and peace.
Contribute to global efforts to establish trusted frameworks for ethical and privacy protective data practices and innovation.
Provide public sector organisations with the policy guidance and technical assistance needed for mainstream adoption of innovative data practices and technologies.
Advocate for greater public awareness and support communities of practice across diverse disciplines and geographies to accelerate development of big data and AI applications.
Research new applications of big data and artificial intelligence to address emerging challenges.
Accelerate uptake of software platforms, methods, approaches, and algorithms UN Global Pulse has been developing over the years to achieve measurable impact.
Support development of instruments, partnerships, and mechanisms to strengthen privacy and data protection while encouraging a rights-based and ethical approach to data and AI across sectors.
UN Global Pulse brings together governments, UN entities, and partners from academia and the private sector to test, refine, and scale methods for using big data and artificial intelligence to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Pulse Labs are made up of multidisciplinary teams of data scientists, engineers, designers, social scientists, communication experts, and data privacy and legal specialists, who work together with development and humanitarian practitioners to prototype and implement innovation programmes.
Working on exploratory research and innovative tools
UN Global Pulse continued to work with development and humanitarian practitioners at both the global and the local level to discover, build, pilot, and evaluate data-driven projects and applications using artificial intelligence. This section highlights tools and methods that were developed and refined in 2019, and presents the findings from exploratory work conducted by the Pulse Labs.
UN Global Pulse continued to work with development and humanitarian practitioners at both the global and the local level to discover, build, pilot, and evaluate data-driven projects and applications using artificial intelligence.
UN Global Pulse actively supported the activities of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation by providing expertise in the area of privacy, ethics, and AI. This fed into the report that the HLP released in June of 2019 entitled “The Age of Digital Interdependence.” Following the report’s recommendations, UN Global Pulse champions work on recommendation 1B, which aims to create a platform for sharing digital public goods, and recommendation 3C, which explores the design and application of ethical standards and principles in AI in different contexts. In addition, UN Global Pulse is supporting the review of how existing international human rights accords and standards apply to new and emerging digital technologies as a key constituent of recommendations 3A and 3B.
This multi-day event, co-hosted with UN Human Rights, focused on the development of a human rights-based approach to AI and other emerging technologies. A session on 13th November was organized in line with UN Global Pulse’s work on recommendation 3C of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation. Through a series of expert panels and hands-on breakout groups, it sought to identify practical solutions to key human rights challenges related to AI including: transparency, access to information, non-discrimination, and accountability for harms caused by AI-supported decisions.
A roundtable consultation on 15th November gathered champions of recommendation 3A to review the application of human rights instruments in the digital age. Both of these events featured a diverse and multi-disciplinary group of experts from around the world, including members of the Expert Group on the Governance of Data and AI, which UN Global Pulse leads.
To ensure that data and artificial intelligence are used in a responsible manner, UN Global Pulse partnered with governments in the Global South, beginning with Ghana and Uganda, to help them develop human rights- and ethics-based frameworks for the design and use of artificial intelligence. Several workshops were convened during the year to ideate and initiate discussions on the development of Ethical AI Strategies.
UN Global Pulse, the Ministry of Communications for Ghana and the Data Protection Commission for Ghana hosted a session on developing ethical AI frameworks in the Global South followed by a workshop on developing an ethical AI strategy during the 1st African Region Data Protection and Privacy International Conference. The conference session addressed the ethical issues concerning AI in Africa and called for clear strategies on ethical AI which account for the economic, social, and cultural aspects of different regions of the Global South.
Together with the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation, UN Global Pulse hosted two sessions at the Internet Governance Forum: “Artificial Intelligence in Africa—Between Ethical Challenges and Technical Opportunities” and “The Future of Artificial Intelligence and Sustainable Development”. Both discussions addressed ethical and privacy protective ways in which AI can accelerate the SDGs in Africa.
To support the Ugandan Expert Task Force on 4th Industrial Revolution Technologies in addressing the complex AI ecosystem in Uganda, UN Global Pulse convened experts from the fields of data privacy, data protection, ethics, and human rights to establish the groundwork for developing an ethical AI framework in Uganda. Discussions highlighted the need for appropriate data governance frameworks that would enable access to quality data.
A notable expansion during 2019 was the transformation of UN Global Pulse’s Privacy Advisory Group (PAG) into the Expert Group on Governance of Data and AI in order to include expertise in AI ethics and human rights. Since its launch in 2015, the PAG has been a key contributor to the efforts and deliverables of UN Global Pulse by providing its expertise and guidance, including on the development of the UN Principles on Personal Data Protection and Privacy, the UNDG Guidance Note on Data Protection and Privacy, and UN Global Pulse’s Risk Assessment Tool. The Group met in November in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss paths forward for trustworthy and sustainable use of AI grounded in human rights.
Following the adoption of the UN Principles on Personal Data Protection and Privacy, this meeting was focused on how International Organizations (IOs) could operationalize their data privacy policies and mechanisms. The meeting identified the key steps in developing and implementing a data governance framework, as well as data privacy and data protection tools and mechanisms specific to the mandates and activities of IOs. The event brought together not only policy and legal experts but also representatives of the Information/Cyber Security community across IOs. The event was hands-on and pragmatic, featuring knowledge-sharing and practical group discussions designed to train practitioners on how to tackle specific data governance challenges such as data mapping, setting up cloud storage, and responding to a data breach.
As a designated champion on recommendation 1B of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, UN Global Pulse supports the development of technological and policy solutions that enable access to quality data as a digital public good.
Throughout the year, UN Global Pulse supported the European Union (EU) and governments in the Global South in developing sustainable, human rights-based frameworks for data access and use. UN Global Pulse assisted the EU Commission’s Expert Group on Business to Government (B2G) Data Sharing in producing a set of recommendations to the EU Commission for developing an EU Data Strategy. In the Global South, Pulse Lab Kampala worked with the governments of Uganda and Ghana through consultations to advance the implementation of data protection frameworks and to develop a data strategy for access to quality data.
A decade ago UN Global Pulse spurred the data philanthropy movement, which has transformed into a call to action by many governments and private sector actors. During the year, UN Global Pulse actively participated in the Taskforce and Advisory Group of the GSM Association’s Mobile Data for Social Good Initiative by motivating more telecom companies to officially commit to using their data for the public good.
To enable cross-sectoral data sharing mechanisms, UN Global Pulse co-leads the Global Data Access Framework (GDAF), which works to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs through the use of AI. The GDAF brings together some 70 companies and organizations and is led together with the Future Society’s AI Initiative and the Mckinsey & Company’s Noble Intelligence initiative. It works to turbocharge innovation by serving as a platform for collaboration between governments, the private sector, academics, and international institutions.
Building on its own practices on data privacy and protection, UN Global Pulse released the complete version of its Risks, Harms and Benefits Assessment Tool. This tool provides a practical risk management mechanism for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks of data access for the SDGs. Its goal is to help data experts take human rights into account and to suggest ways in which data can be used for the public good while protecting privacy and adhering to ethical standards.
UN Global Pulse is funded entirely through voluntary contributions from UN Member States, foundations and private sector entities.
World Economic Forum
Pulse Lab New York joined a panel discussion on “Global Aspirations for Prediction,” alongside Quartz, Google, and World Quant. Panelists discussed ways in which predictive technologies can provide meaningful insights for the SDGs and for society in general.
AI for Social Good Workshop
Pulse Lab Jakarta discussed how the application of machine learning and artificial intelligence has enhanced its work to advance development agendas in the Asia Pacific region towards the achievement of the SDGs.
Mobile World Congress
The Labs took part in several sessions at the MWC to discuss how mobile data can responsibly advance development and humanitarian action. UN Global Pulse is a member of the Big Data for Social Good (BD4SG) initiative.
Principles for AI: Towards a Humanistic Approach
During a panel discussion at UNESCO’s conference Pulse Lab New York talked about how data analytics and AI are revolutionizing development practice and how data privacy, data protection and ethical safeguards are intrinsic elements for the safe use of these technologies.
Data Innovation Clinic
Pulse Lab Jakarta hosted colleagues from Aga Khan Foundation, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), InnovationXchange, The Ethics Centre and Roshan Telecom for a three-day data innovation clinic focused on exploring the different contexts in which data innovation takes place.
Towards a Network of Excellence in AI4D in Sub-Saharan Africa
At the workshop, Pulse Lab Kampala shared its experience on the work conducted to support the development of ethical frameworks for AI in Uganda, and discussed with participants opportunities and challenges around AI policies.
Dataku: Data Analytics and Visualisation Workshop
Pulse Lab Jakarta organised a training workshop with representatives from the Ministry of National Development Planning to showcase Dataku, a data visualisation prototype that the Lab developed to enhance the Ministry’s work and decision-making processes.
At the 11th Information Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D) Conference, Pulse Lab Kampala presented its work in a plenary session that addressed the issues of AI and machine learning, and in a subsequent workshop that it helped organize around the same topic.
5th International Conference on Big Data for Official Statistics
Pulse Lab Kampala and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics presented a data-driven project they worked on that uses official statistics and other sources of data to estimate the growth of slums in real-time using artificial intelligence.
Global Privacy Summit
Pulse Lab New York participated in the Global Privacy Summit organized by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) in April, where discussions centred on how to develop sound data privacy and data protection mechanisms.
Milken Institute Global Conference 2019
Pulse Lab New York joined a panel of experts at Milken to discuss how AI technologies can best be leveraged to support the transition to a new global development paradigm powered by real-time, predictive and prescriptive analytics.
UNDP Data Innovation Clinic
Pulse Lab Jakarta served as one of the mentors during the clinic, which was organised by the UNDP Regional Hubs in Amman and Istanbul, and facilitated a dialogue on how thick data from the depths of human stories can complement big data analytics.
AI for Good Global Summit
The Pulse Labs presented in various sessions where they emphasised the importance of harnessing emerging real-time data and artificial intelligence to help develop innovative tools that can be scaled up to monitor progress on the SDGs.
5th International Partnership for Technology in Peacekeeping Symposium
Pulse Lab Kampala joined conversations of this year’s symposium with the theme ‘predict, prevent, protect’ to discuss how big data analytics and machine learning processes can be used to inform decision making processes particularly in peacekeeping operations.
Data Science Africa
Pulse Lab Kampala was involved in organizing the DSA 2019 workshops, the first of which took place in Ethiopia in June, and the second in Ghana later on in the year.
AI and Privacy: Challenges and Ways Forward in the Global South
At RightsCon, Pulse Lab New York presented its ongoing efforts to advance data protection, data privacy and ethics in the Global South. Discussions mapped the challenges to the right to privacy brought about by AI in the Global South, and put forth ideas on how these challenges could be overcome.
AI for Social Good Workshop
At the International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) Pulse Lab New York presented its work during a workshop entitled “AI for Good” highlighting the findings of a study it conducted on the risks of AI-generated texts to spread misinformation and fake content.
Workshop on Computer Vision for Global Challenges
Pulse Lab Jakarta’s proposal to the Computer Vision for Global Challenges (CV4GC) initiative was selected as one of the final 17 challenge winners. During the workshop, the Lab presented the model it designed to nowcast air pollution and received expert feedback from the computer vision community on how to refine its development.
Measuring Spatial Inequalities Using AI Technologies
Pulse Lab Kampala hosted a workshop on measuring spatial inequalities with AI during the European Development Days forum. At the session, Pulse Lab Kampala and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics presented their collaborative work using AI technologies to monitor trends in the growth of slums in Uganda.
Understanding Migration and Refugee Situations in the Age of Big Data
Pulse Lab New York hosted a workshop at the 2nd edition of the Design for Humanity Summit focused on understanding migration in the age of big data. The team presented three projects developed with UNHCR.
Building ethical AI approaches in the Global South
Pulse Lab New York, Pulse Lab Kampala, the Ministry of Communications for Ghana and the Data Protection Commission for Ghana hosted a session on developing ethical AI frameworks in the Global South followed by a workshop on developing an ethical AI strategy during the 1st African Region Data Protection and Privacy International Conference.
Africa Blockchain Conference
At the event, Pulse Lab Kampala participated in a panel discussion entitled “Linking the SDGs and the 4IR.” The key message of the session was on ensuring an enabling environment for innovation and emerging technologies to help advance the SDGs.
Tech Innovation Braintrust
NEXUS Global, a leading global community of social entrepreneurs, and Pulse Lab New York hosted a Tech Innovation Braintrust at the UN Headquarters in New York, gathering some 45 participants to discuss opportunities to advance the use of novel technologies at the UN.
12th ATRANS Annual Conference
Pulse Lab Jakarta made a case for the use of non-conventional data sources to improve mobility, by presenting proofs-of-concept from its urban dynamics portfolio that integrate big data from new technologies and apply machine learning approaches.
ASEAN-China-UNDP Symposium 2019
Pulse Lab Jakarta broached important questions regarding how governments should go about building an inclusive innovation system that benefits the most vulnerable, specifically the role of technology and big data in addressing the shortcomings of the existing system.
Partnering for Progress: How Real-time Social Data Advances the SDGs
Pulse Lab New York, Dataminr, and Twitter hosted an event during the UN General Assembly week in New York to showcase how real-time social data can help advance the SDGs. The event gathered 250 representatives from government, UN agencies, companies, and academia.
3rd Workshop of the Global Data Access Framework (GDAF)
Following constructive discussions at the World Government Summit and the AI for Good Global Summit, this third workshop identified data- and technology-driven use cases that the GDAF initiative will pilot. The GDAF is co-led by UN Global Pulse, The Future Society’s AI Initiative, and McKinsey’s Noble Intelligence initiative.
AI, People and the Planet
Pulse Lab New York joined leading Swedish and U.S. experts to talk about the risks and opportunities that artificial intelligence poses for sustainability and the 2030 Agenda.
Panel on AI Ethics
Pulse Lab Kampala participated in a panel discussion at the Data Science Africa workshop in Ghana that addressed the key challenges in the design and use of AI, including the topics of algorithmic transparency and bias.
Pulse Lab New York was invited to keynote the launch of UNLEASH 2019 and to kick off the week’s events. In the presence of hundreds of talented youth and experts from across the public and private sector, UN Global Pulse urged for increased action and innovative thinking to speed up achievement of the SDGs.
Governance of AI: human rights-based approach to AI in line with recommendations 3A and 3C of High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation
This multi-day event, co-hosted with UN Human Rights, focused on the development of a human rights-based approach to AI and other emerging technologies.
Data Governance at International Organizations: From Theory to Practice
Following the adoption of the UN Principles on Personal Data Protection and Privacy, this meeting was focused on how International Organizations (IOs) could operationalize their data privacy policies and mechanisms.
Internet Governance Forum
Together with the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation, Pulse Lab New York hosted two sessions at the Internet Governance Forum: “Artificial Intelligence in Africa—Between Ethical Challenges and Technical Opportunities” and “The Future of Artificial Intelligence and Sustainable Development”.
IEEE International Conference on Big Data
Pulse Lab Jakarta presented its data analytics research on modelling wealth in Papua New Guinea using call detail records and tele-survey data during a special session on machine learning and big data.
AI for Social Good
At NeurIPS, Pulse Lab New York co-hosted a workshop on “AI for Social Good.” Gathering the best and brightest in the industry, the one-day workshop focused on three specific tracks: ‘Producing good outcomes’, ‘From malicious use to responsible AI’ and ‘Public policy.’
Meeting on governance of data and AI of the Ugandan Expert Task Force on 4th Industrial Revolution Technology
To support the Ugandan Expert Task Force on 4th Industrial Revolution Technologies in addressing the complex AI ecosystem in Uganda, Pulse Lab New York convened experts from the fields of data privacy, data protection, ethics, and human rights to establish the groundwork for developing an ethical AI framework in Uganda.
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