AI influences nearly 8 billion people and human & earth diverse ecosystems on an unprecedented scale. Startups accelerate to incorporate AI innovation as AI tools proliferate. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The UNESCO recommendations on the ethics of AI recently adopted by member states provides a foundational global agreement on AI Ethics. The global UNESCO AI recommendations in 2022 guides governments, industry, education, academia, non-profits, media, investments, and startups. This filters into national and international policies and regulatory frameworks and operational guidance across all industries. The objectives ultimately drive emerging AI driven technologies that are trustworthy, safe, human-centered for the benefit of people and humanity.
The focus in this article is the IRCAI – International Research Center on Artificial Intelligence under the auspices of UNESCO. The article is guided by the daily pro bono work I do across more than 100,00 CEOs, investors, experts, and scientists. In the examples below, my pro bono roles include:
– Chairing the non-profit IFIP Global Industry Council (GIC) and vice-chair the IFIP International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3) where ethics and trustworthy IT professionalism is a priority. IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing) was founded by UNESCO in 1960 and held their IFIP 60th anniversary events this year.
– In addition, I am judge for startups in the non-profit UN ITU AI for good Innovation Factory, sit on the non-profit UN World Food Program (WFP) Innovation Accelerator (IA) Advisory Council supporting startups/innovation, and judge the Microsoft Imagine Cup, an open program for student-centered innovation.
The UNESCO IRCAI did a call for proposals of the top 100 projects using AI solving problems related to the UN SDGs, with the top 10 showcased in a special report due soon. The top 10 will receive support with training, advisory, networking and mentoring across IRCAI partners.
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The IRCAI is an example of AI being addressed by the UN and UN agencies.
Other UN and SDG-related Innovation Program Examples
The UN agency, ITU (International Telecommunications Union), hosts the AI for good global summit and daily programming focused on AI solving UN SDG challenges. They have more than 5 global focus groups working on implementing standards and solutions in AI. UN ITU AI for good Innovation Factory is their open platform to showcase startups using AI for SDGs throughout the year with judging for the top startups. The UN ITU AI for good Innovation Factory Grand Finale was held in December 2021. The event curated all the winners during 2021 to the top 5 where the grand champion two winners were awarded. Quoting from the ITU, the five finalists were:
-RydeSafely, road safety solution for the future of autonomous driving. The platform tests and quantifies the safety of a client’s driving software and identifies vulnerabilities to improve safety and reliability.
-Afya Rekod, health data management platform that uses AI and blockchain to support health institutions and patients to make data driven decisions and allows doctors to provide better healthcare for patients with real-time access and mobility of their patients’ health data.
-Talov Studio, has developed assistive technologies, including AI-powered hearing/visual assistant to assist persons that are blind and develops AI communication tools to enable persons with disabilities to communicate without barriers.
-DoctorOnCall, is a remote healthcare application where patients can have Medical Video visits on their smartphones or computers at any time of day and anywhere through Medical Video-consultations.
-Kettle, is a smarter reinsurance model to better predict the catastrophic effects of climate change. It is a predictive underwriting platform built for the modern world, using better data and deep learning to lower costs and minimize risks.
From the judging, DoctorOnCall was awarded first place followed by Kettle. The audience participants voted for their favorite with Talov Studio (55.1%), DoctorOnCall (18.4%), Kettle (12.2%), Afya Rekod (10.2%), RydeSafely (4.1%).
World Food Program (WFP) Innovation Accelerator (IA) is an open platform for innovation and startups to enable the UN WFP mandate to reach zero hunger. The WFP IA has achieved multiple Fast Company Awards and in 2020, both Apple and Google awarded the IA ShareTheMeal app. WFP in 2020 also received the Nobel Peace Prize. The WFP IA supports innovation from WFP staff, entrepreneurs, startups, companies, and NGOs with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support, and WFP operations. The IA provides: innovation bootcamps, sprint programme, scale-up enablement, frontier innovation and innovation services. Examples of IA innovations/startups are CODA (conditional on-demand assistance) for simplified solutions for complex programs. H2Grow enabling growing food in impossible places and SheCan providing financial inclusion for women.
The Microsoft 2022 Imagine Cup Epic Challenge, in December 2021, announced their three winning teams and runner-up teams. The winning teams move directly to the World Finals in 2022. As announced in the Imagine Cup Epic Challenge Blog, “The Epic Challenge was an opportunity for teams in submission categories of earth, education, health, lifestyle, to receive preliminary feedback on their ideas from professional judges and have the chance to win a spot to directly advance to the World Finals round. Each Epic Challenge submission was judged, and a winner from each region was selected. These teams will each take home USD1,000 to continue developing their projects, receive judge feedback, and automatically advance to the Imagine Cup World Finals!” Quoting from the blog, the winners were:
– KAPI from the USA; category education; keyboardless, ASL-inspired Programming Interface (KAPI), which leverages emerging low-code platforms (PyCaret, Github Co-Pilot) computer vision, and Machine Learning, so that people can sign their code using only a webcam.
– HireUsPls from Singapore; category education; KodeFlo is a web-based game application that uses Flow-Based Programming to teach programming concepts to children aged 10-14 years old.
– Roz Development Team from Pakistan; category health; mobile application to assist in early detection of breast cancer.
– Runner-up teams (12): VueForAll, lifestyle, Canada; Rurusi, earth, Mexico; Waveform, health, USA; Apoio, health, USA; 6E Resources, earth, India; Spring_1.0, lifestyle, India; IoTian, earth, Malaysia; Makeable, education, Taiwan; Alshaymaa School, health, Pakistan; Omega GIKI, health, Pakistan; V Bionic, health, Saudi Arabia; Green Vault, earth, UK.
UNESCO IRCAI Top 100
The IRCAI global top 100 was recently released in an interactive map. The AI projects are related to the 17 SDGs from all five global regions: Africa, EU, Americas, Asia/Pacific, Middle East. As noted by IRCAI, “The 2021 call was phenomenally successful and the submissions proved that the usage of AI in the field of sustainability is not just emerging but also thriving and emerging from research groups across the world, permeating through start-ups, established companies, development agencies and non-profit charities. The reviews were managed by the members of the IRCAI Scientific Programme Committees, Scientific Journal Editorial Board, and Business and Impact Council.”
The map contains menu options: Country, SDGs, Industry, Assessment. Countries included: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, International, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Senegal, Slovenia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, UK, USA, Zambia. The leading country was the USA with 33 projects followed by the UK with 11; Italy third with 6; and tied for fourth with 5, France, Germany, Canada.
There are more than 60 industry categories and the 17 UN SDGs. Leaving the menu options, Country, SDGs, Industry to “Any” provides a good world view of the innovations and then using menu option Assessment for the type of startups with options: Any, Early Stage, Promising, Excellent, Outstanding. For early stage, there are 32 projects. Promising 52 projects. 13 rated excellent. There are 10 as Outstanding and will be featured in the upcoming special report. I recommend looking at the 100 projects for their diversity and ingenuity. Here are the Outstanding Top 10, quoting extensively from the IRCAI:
-INPS (the Social Security Administration of the Republic of Italy) and Accenture [company/institution], AI-powered classification email system to help the Italian Public Administration to better serve citizens [project]—The project, developed by INPS (the Social Security Administration of the Republic of Italy) with Accenture, improves the current manual process of classifying emails sent by citizens and dispatching them to the appropriate office. It achieves its goal through innovative AI techniques and automatizing analysis of content and context of massive amounts of emails. Italian citizens send INPS more than 4 million emails each year (likely to increase with the pandemic): this automated email classification system is extremely valuable to INPS offices to respond more promptly to the citizens.
-dida Datenschmiede GmbH (Germany) [company/institution], ASMSpotter [project]—ASMSpotter is a machine learning and AI software to automatically detect and monitor artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) on satellite imagery using novel computer vision technique. ASM is the source of livelihoods for more than 44 million people across 80 countries worldwide, and thus has huge potential to contribute to the achievement of the SGDs. At the same time, ASM can have immense negative impacts on human rights, development and the environment if not governed properly. Effective, continuous monitoring of ASM activity is a crucial component in addressing these challenges. ASMSpotter provides an efficient and effective AI solution by combining cutting edge machine learning with specialist expertise on ASM through the partnership between Dida and Levin Sources.
-GIZ GmbH (Germany) [company/institution], FAIR Forward [project] – Artificial Intelligence for All—The German Development Cooperation initiative “FAIR Forward – Artificial Intelligence for All” strives for a more open, inclusive and sustainable approach to AI on an international level. To achieve this, they are working together with six partner countries: Ghana, Rwanda, Kenia, South Africa, Uganda and India. Together, they pursue three main goals: 1) Strengthen local technical know-how on AI, 2) Remove entry barriers to AI by helping to build open AI training data sets as digital public goods, and 3) develop policy frameworks ready for AI.
-Rewire Online (UK) [company/institution], Flag [project]—Flag is a tool for keeping people safe by automatically detecting whether online content contains hate. It can be used by platforms to moderate content and by other stakeholders (such as government, civil society, and research agencies) to gain critical intelligence and monitor activity.
-Logically (UK) [company/institution], Logically Intelligence [project]—Founded in 2017 by MIT and Cambridge alum Lyric Jain, Logically combines advanced AI with one of the world’s largest dedicated fact-checking teams to help government bodies uncover and address harmful misinformation and deliberate disinformation. The company’s mission is to enhance civic discourse, protect democratic debate and process, and provide access to trustworthy information.
-National Cheng Kung University (Taiwan) [company/institution], MedCheX: an e-Alert system for automatically detecting pneumonia from chest X-rays [project]—AI pneumonia detection platform for suspected COVID-19 patients. The purpose, only takes a single second to assist front-line doctors in recognizing patients who are infected.
-NASA Harvest, University of Maryland (USA) [company/institution], NASA Harvest [project]—Harvest is developing solutions that provide information on agricultural production and land use that support the attainment of several SDGs as well as monitoring their achievement via the Global Indicator Framework. Since November 2017, NASA Harvest has initiated or been involved in ~30 projects globally to improve tools and grow regional and local capacity to address food insecurity. Harvest maintains a satellite-based Global Agriculture Monitoring system (GLAM) developed by the University of Maryland with NASA and USDA. GLAM was customized for East Africa, enabling the implementation of the World Bank’s Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance Program. In Uganda, this program has supported >300,000 individuals in Karamoja, providing alternative livelihoods to smallholder farmers affected by drought. This system also enables the delivery of newer maps and solutions using ML including crop maps and yield forecasts. Harvest’s 2019 crop map of Togo was used to implement the YOLIM program which has served more than 50,000 people.
-NatureAlpha (UK) [company/institution], NatureAlpha Biodiversity & nature metrics platform [project]— NatureAlpha provides science-based analytics for investors on nature and biodiversity, powered by an R&D partnership with Oxford University, leading geospatial and machine learning technology. NatureAlpha’s ability to influence and redirect capital towards biodiversity preservation could have far-reaching effects for billions of global citizens.
-Aspire Food Group & DarwinAI (Canada) [company/institution], Novel Application of Advanced Manufacturing Approaches to High Quality Protein [project]—Aspire Food Group is a world leader in the commercial production and processing of crickets and cricket waste (“frass”) into nutritional ingredients for people, pets and plants. Aspire has developed a proprietary, innovative process to produce exceptional protein using minimal resources, a modular and scalable production, tight supply chains and low costs to generate outsized global impact. DarwinAI was founded by a world class academics team from the University of Waterloo. Their patented explainability technology enables human-in-the-loop decision making in AI systems. DarwinAI-Aspire’s deep learning solution analyzes more than 50 input parameters to unearth insights that can improve more than 15 output parameters, creating a loop that changes facility conditions to produce healthy crickets and maximize facility yields while minimizing costs (e.g., due to water, natural gas, electricity, etc.).
-SkillLab B.V. (Netherlands) [company/institution], SkillLab [project]—SkillLab’s AI-based solution empowers people to capture their skills, find education and jobs as well as generate tailored job applications. SkillLab makes career guidance accessible to marginalized people and provides a pathway to employment based on a skill-recognition system that is granular, technology-enabled, and data-driven. Users create a skill profile through an AI-based interview that builds on the European Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations framework (ESCO) which contains 13.485 skills and describes 2.942 occupations.