11 August 2020
ICT Minister Delivers Speech in Virtual Regional Consultation on Ethics of AI - Arab States Region


The Minister of Communications and Information Technology Amr Talaat has delivered a speech in the opening session of the virtual Regional Consultation for the Arab States Region on the first draft of the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The event is organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and hosted by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), for two days.

The session was attended by the Advisor to the ICT Minister for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Golestan Radwan; the Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences at UNESCO Gabriela Ramos; the Director of UNESCO Regional Office for Science and Technology Ghaith Fariz; the Egyptian National Commission for UNESCO Secretary-General Ghada Abdelbary; a representative of the Permanent Delegation of the Arab Republic of Egypt to UNESCO; the Professor of Computer Science at New York University Mohamed Zahran; members of UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group (AHEG) for the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI; and a number of participants from different Arab countries.

During his speech, Talaat underlined that Egypt took huge steps in implementing its national strategy for AI, that aims to capitalize on AI to build “Digital Egypt”. He said that a promising capacity building program was launched with the aim to introduce all segments of society to AI, adding that a comprehensive program would be launched to educate all government employees on the uses of AI to optimize government operations and ensure their transparency.

Moreover, the Applied Innovation Center (AIC) was established for implementing AI-related projects in areas including machine translation and the early detection of diabetic retinopathy, as well as a project in the accurate calculation of the needed irrigation water for agriculture, which was selected to be presented in this year's Paris Peace Forum, said the ICT Minister.

Talaat referred to Egypt's efforts to make optimal use of AI, including establishing the National AI Council that oversees the implementation of the national strategy for AI in all sectors, as well as issuing the Personal Data Protection Law that governs the relation between data owners and users. He commended UNESCO efforts in coordinating between the various stakeholders to agree on the ethics of AI, through involving all regions, on an equal footing, in these deliberations and forming an expert group from all over the world.

As much positive impact as AI has in radically transforming economic and social systems around the world, it represents a threat of a technological, economic and social divide, due to the absence of a basic infrastructure and the human capacity needed to utilize this technology, let alone the monopoly of AI and knowledge by a small number of countries and companies.

Talaat drew attention to the broad ethical impact of AI, including AI systems design and deployment issues, such as data bias and security risks; access to knowledge and education in AI issues, resulting from the unequal distribution of wealth and the unfair representation of low and middle income countries in AI forums; and socio-economic impact issues, such as maintaining values, morals, cultural heritage, language and identity.

The Recommendations on the Ethics of AI were drafted by the Ad Hoc Expert Group (AHEG), composed of 24 of the world’s leading experts in AI, appointed by UNESCO Director-General, early this year, following the decision of UNESCO General Conference at its 40th session in November 2019. The expert group was tasked with the production of a draft text, which will be presented to various stakeholders at the national, sub-regional and regional levels for their comments. The text will then be submitted to UNESCO Member States for adoption at the next General Conference.

The Regional Consultation is the first to be held in the Arab region. It brings together 30 participants from different Arab countries, representing different sectors and industries, as well as government representatives and others from the private sector, the media, scientific research, arts, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). The event provides the opportunity to share and exchange experience in addressing the ethical issues of AI in the Arab region.

It is worth noting that Egypt was elected member of the advisory working group tasked with discussing the drafting of an international technical document on the ethics of AI, as Radwan was nominated a member of AHEG, then elected as its Vice-Chairperson.

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