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Queen Mary University of London puts children’s rights and inequality firmly on the AI agenda 

On 2 November 2023, Queen Mary University of London hosted an event around safe and responsible artificial intelligence (AI) in partnership with The Alan Turing Institute, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI, and Big Innovation Centre. 

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AI event in the Octagon at Queen Mary
AI event in the Octagon at Queen Mary

AI at a Turning Point: How Can We Create Equitable AI Governance Futures? examined a wide range of ethical issues that were not put on the agenda during the Government’s recent two-day summit. 

In one of the highlight sessions, leading academics and parliamentarians warned that children's rights are being ignored at their peril in the acceleration of AI. 

Watch the full event recording on YouTube:

Speaking at the event, Baroness Beeban Kidron, a leading campaigner for children's rights said: “It is a glaring omission that the needs of children are not at the centre of AI summits but have instead been literally pushed to the fringes.  

“The impact of AI on children is not somewhere in the future; it is here and now, whether it is the allocation of benefits, the assumptions in policing tools, or the scraping of children's images to create abuse material. If AI is to develop for the ultimate benefit of humanity rather than profit only, then it must innovate in the best interests of children, with regulatory oversight and accountability.”  

David Leslie, Professor of Ethics, Technology and Society at Queen Mary’s Digital Environment Research Institute, highlighted the lack of attention the world has paid to the ethical implications of AI as the technology has rapidly advanced: “There hasn't been enough attention paid to the ethical implications of AI systems that impact children and even less with regard to age-appropriate design. It's like a ticking timebomb. 

“What we've done today is to bring people together to outline what needs to be considered in setting up an AI framework, so that we can provide a roadmap for responsible development."  

Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences at UNESCO, called for a global approach to AI ethics. She argued that we have been approaching AI as a technological debate, but that it is ultimately a societal one.  

"What we say at UNESCO is that inequalities in the upstream contribute to the inequalities in the downstream," she said. "And we're just creating a world with high concentration of computer capacity, skills, infrastructure, energy, and of course, innovation, and then the rest of the world is not really looking into that." 

Angeline Wairegi, Co-Director Data Governance Policy Center, Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), Strathmore University, Kenya, warned that if we continue with the same practices, we will see the same inequalities being entrenched or widened. She emphasised the need to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table when it comes to shaping AI policy. 

The event also marked the official launch of the national public sector AI Ethics and Governance in Practice programme, a series of eight workbooks that will update the UK’s official Public Sector AI Ethics and Safety Guidance. 

Other sessions from the day focus on topics such as global data justice and inclusive international AI governance.  

Queen Mary University of London, the Alan Turing Institute, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI, and the Big Innovation Centre are all key players in shaping AI policy. The event brought together speakers from six different continents to ensure that a wide range of voices and global perspectives are heard in this important policy debate. 

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