Tag Archives: UNITAR

AI (artificial intelligence) for Good Global Summit from May 15 – 17, 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland: details and an interview with Frederic Werner

With all the talk about artificial intelligence (AI), a lot more attention seems to be paid to apocalyptic scenarios: loss of jobs, financial hardship, loss of personal agency and privacy, and more with all of these impacts being described as global. Still, there are some folks who are considering and working on ‘AI for good’.

If you’d asked me, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) would not have been my first guess (my choice would have been United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]) as an agency likely to host the 2018 AI for Good Global Summit. But, it turns out the ITU is a UN (United Nations agency) and, according to its Wikipedia entry, it’s an intergovernmental public-private partnership, which may explain the nature of the participants in the upcoming summit.

The news

First, there’s a May 4, 2018 ITU media advisory (received via email or you can find the full media advisory here) about the upcoming summit,

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now widely identified as being able to address the greatest challenges facing humanity – supporting innovation in fields ranging from crisis management and healthcare to smart cities and communications networking.

The second annual ‘AI for Good Global Summit’ will take place 15-17 May [2018] in Geneva, and seeks to leverage AI to accelerate progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and ultimately benefit humanity.

WHAT: Global event to advance ‘AI for Good’ with the participation of internationally recognized AI experts. The programme will include interactive high-level panels, while ‘AI Breakthrough Teams’ will propose AI strategies able to create impact in the near term, guided by an expert audience of mentors representing government, industry, academia and civil society – through interactive sessions. The summit will connect AI innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers, building collaboration to take promising strategies forward.

A special demo & exhibit track will feature innovative applications of AI designed to: protect women from sexual violence, avoid infant crib deaths, end child abuse, predict oral cancer, and improve mental health treatments for depression – as well as interactive robots including: Alice, a Dutch invention designed to support the aged; iCub, an open-source robot; and Sophia, the humanoid AI robot.

WHEN: 15-17 May 2018, beginning daily at 9 AM

WHERE: ITU Headquarters, 2 Rue de Varembé, Geneva, Switzerland (Please note: entrance to ITU is now limited for all visitors to the Montbrillant building entrance only on rue Varembé).

WHO: Confirmed participants to date include expert representatives from: Association for Computing Machinery, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cambridge University, Carnegie Mellon, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Consumer Trade Association, Facebook, Fraunhofer, Google, Harvard University, IBM Watson, IEEE, Intellectual Ventures, ITU, Microsoft, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Partnership on AI, Planet Labs, Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, University of California at Berkeley, University of Tokyo, XPRIZE Foundation, Yale University – and the participation of “Sophia” the humanoid robot and “iCub” the EU open source robotcub.

The interview

Frederic Werner, Senior Communications Officer at the International Telecommunication Union and** one of the organizers of the AI for Good Global Summit 2018 kindly took the time to speak to me and provide a few more details about the upcoming event.

Werner noted that the 2018 event grew out of a much smaller 2017 ‘workshop’ and first of its kind, about beneficial AI which this year has ballooned in size to 91 countries (about 15 participants are expected from Canada), 32 UN agencies, and substantive representation from the private sector. The 2017 event featured Dr. Yoshua Bengio of the University of Montreal  (Université de Montréal) was a featured speaker.

“This year, we’re focused on action-oriented projects that will help us reach our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. We’re looking at near-term practical AI applications,” says Werner. “We’re matchmaking problem-owners and solution-owners.”

Academics, industry professionals, government officials, and representatives from UN agencies are gathering  to work on four tracks/themes:

In advance of this meeting, the group launched an AI repository (an action item from the 2017 meeting) on April 25, 2018 inviting people to list their AI projects (from the ITU’s April 25, 2018? AI repository news announcement),

ITU has just launched an AI Repository where anyone working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) can contribute key information about how to leverage AI to help solve humanity’s greatest challenges.

This is the only global repository that identifies AI-related projects, research initiatives, think-tanks and organizations that aim to accelerate progress on the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To submit a project, just press ‘Submit’ on the AI Repository site and fill in the online questionnaire, providing all relevant details of your project. You will also be asked to map your project to the relevant World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action lines and the SDGs. Approved projects will be officially registered in the repository database.

Benefits of participation on the AI Repository include:

WSIS Prizes recognize individuals, governments, civil society, local, regional and international agencies, research institutions and private-sector companies for outstanding success in implementing development oriented strategies that leverage the power of AI and ICTs.

Creating the AI Repository was one of the action items of last year’s AI for Good Global Summit.

We are looking forward to your submissions.

If you have any questions, please send an email to: ai@itu.int

“Your project won’t be visible immediately as we have to vet the submissions to weed out spam-type material and projects that are not in line with our goals,” says Werner. That said, there are already 29 projects in the repository. As you might expect, the UK, China, and US are in the repository but also represented are Egypt, Uganda, Belarus, Serbia, Peru, Italy, and other countries not commonly cited when discussing AI research.

Werner also pointed out in response to my surprise over the ITU’s role with regard to this AI initiative that the ITU is the only UN agency which has 192* member states (countries), 150 universities, and over 700 industry members as well as other member entities, which gives them tremendous breadth of reach. As well, the organization, founded originally in 1865 as the International Telegraph Convention, has extensive experience with global standardization in the information technology and telecommunications industries. (See more in their Wikipedia entry.)


There is a bit more about the summit on the ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit 2018 webpage,

The 2nd edition of the AI for Good Global Summit will be organized by ITU in Geneva on 15-17 May 2018, in partnership with XPRIZE Foundation, the global leader in incentivized prize competitions, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and sister United Nations agencies including UNESCO, UNICEF, UNCTAD, UNIDO, Global Pulse, UNICRI, UNODA, UNIDIR, UNODC, WFP, IFAD, UNAIDS, WIPO, ILO, UNITAR, UNOPS, OHCHR, UN UniversityWHO, UNEP, ICAO, UNDP, The World Bank, UN DESA, CTBTOUNISDRUNOG, UNOOSAUNFPAUNECE, UNDPA, and UNHCR.

The AI for Good series is the leading United Nations platform for dialogue on AI. The action​​-oriented 2018 summit will identify practical applications of AI and supporting strategies to improve the quality and sustainability of life on our planet. The summit will continue to formulate strategies to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits.

While the 2017 summit sparked the first ever inclusive global dialogue on beneficial AI, the action-oriented 2018 summit will focus on impactful AI solutions able to yield long-term benefits and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. ‘Breakthrough teams’ will demonstrate the potential of AI to map poverty and aid with natural disasters using satellite imagery, how AI could assist the delivery of citizen-centric services in smart cities, and new opportunities for AI to help achieve Universal Health Coverage, and finally to help achieve transparency and explainability in AI algorithms.

Teams will propose impactful AI strategies able to be enacted in the near term, guided by an expert audience of mentors representing government, industry, academia and civil society. Strategies will be evaluated by the mentors according to their feasibility and scalability, potential to address truly global challenges, degree of supporting advocacy, and applicability to market failures beyond the scope of government and industry. The exercise will connect AI innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers, building collaboration to take promising strategies forward.

“As the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies, ITU is well placed to guide AI innovation towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development ​Goals. We are providing a neutral close quotation markplatform for international dialogue aimed at ​building a ​common understanding of the capabilities of emerging AI technologies.​​” Houlin Zhao, Secretary General ​of ITU​

Should you be close to Geneva, it seems that registration is still open. Just go to the ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit 2018 webpage, scroll the page down to ‘Documentation’ and you will find a link to the invitation and a link to online registration. Participation is free but I expect that you are responsible for your travel and accommodation costs.

For anyone unable to attend in person, the summit will be livestreamed (webcast in real time) and you can watch the sessions by following the link below,


For those of us on the West Coast of Canada and other parts distant to Geneva, you will want to take the nine hour difference between Geneva (Switzerland) and here into account when viewing the proceedings. If you can’t manage the time difference, the sessions are being recorded and will be posted at a later date.

*’132 member states’ corrected to ‘192 member states’ on May 11, 2018 at 1500 hours PDT.

*Redundant ‘and’ removed on July 19, 2018.

WHO’s nanotechnology regulations

The World Health Organization (WHO) is soliciting comments and support for a set of occupational safety guidelines for the manufacture of nanomaterials. From the Feb. 21, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

To address occupational risks of nanomaterials, WHO is developing Guidelines on “Protecting Workers from Potential Risks of Manufactured Nanomaterials” (WHO/NANOH). These Guidelines aim to facilitate improvements in occupational health and safety of workers potentially exposed to nanomaterials in a broad range of manufacturing and social environments. The guidelines will incorporate elements of risk assessment and risk management and contextual issues. They will provide recommendations to improve occupational safety and protect the health of workers using nanomaterials in all countries and especially in low and middle-income countries.

As an initial step towards the development of the WHO/NANOH Guidelines, WHO prepared a draft background document proposing content and focus of the Guidelines. This background document will be used by the Guideline Development Group to identify key questions to be addressed by the Guidelines.

The public is being invited to send in comments about the guidelines by March 31, 2012. The guidelines along with more instructions can be found on this WHO webpage. The page also includes information about the process for developing the guidelines and a plea for support,

1. Establish a Guideline Development Group and an External Review Group, which reflect the diversity of manufactured nanomaterials and manufacturing processes on the global scale and the cultural differences in workplace safety. The Guideline Development Group oversees important elements in the guideline development process such as drafting guideline text, while the External Review Group is tasked with critical review of the scientific evidence and of the text of the guidelines.

2. Prepare a background document proposing content and focus of the Guidelines. This background document is used by the Guideline Development Group to identify key questions to be addressed by the Guidelines.

3. Prepare systematic review papers for each key question.

4. Prepare guideline recommendations.

5. Conduct an implementation phase of the project encompassing preparation of a user-friendly implementation guide and pilot implementation projects in selected countries.

WHO is in the process of identifying scientific knowledge and expertise on nanomaterials and health to contribute to this initiative. We invite the submission of relevant scientific publications and references in addition to those already mentioned in the background document, as well as expressions of interest to support this project, which can be sent to nanohealth@who.int.

WHO is also seeking additional support for this important project. We welcome expressions of interest to support this project, which also can be sent to nanohealth@who.int.

I’m perplexed by these requests for support.  Do they want researchers to lend their expertise to this project; do they want money; do they want various governments to express their enthusiasm for this project, or all of the above?

I’m happy to see that they do reference the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Publications in the Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials; UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research)  Nanotechnology and Manufactured Nanomaterials (this is new to me); and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Nanotechnologies (also new to me).


Nanotechnology and emerging and developing economies

Occasionally I come across references to nanotechnology and its possible impact on emerging and developing countries such as this news item on Nanowerk,

… OECD and UNITAR organised workshops in each of the UN Regions to undertake awareness raising and other related activities in developing countries regarding the potential risks from nanotechnologies and manufactured nanomaterials (e.g. to the environment or human health) and benefits (e.g. decreased costs of low-maintenance products, or use in environmental remediation) of nanotechnology and nanomaterials.

These workshops brief participants on what is nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials, what are some of the potential risks from nanotechnologies and manufactured nanomaterials (e.g. to the environment or human health) and benefits (e.g. decreased costs of low-maintenance products, or use in environmental remediation) of nanotechnology and nanomaterials. It also considered some of the posible implications for developing and transition countries as nano-based or nano-containing products are traded across borders, into jurisdictions where there is little or no capacity to address them. These workshops were organised in conjunction with SAICM Regional Meetings, within the framework of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC). The workshops were held as follows:

Asia-Pacific Region: 27 November 2009, in Beijing, China
Central and Eastern Europe Region: 11 December 2009, in Lodz, Poland
Africa Region: 25-26 January 2010, in Abidjan, Cote d’lvoire
Latin America – Caribbean Region: 12 March 2010, in Kingston, Jamaica
Arab Sub-Region: 11-13 April 2010, in Alexandria, Egypt

… In addition to the awareness-raising workshops, UNITAR and OECD are looking at opportunities for assisting developing and transition countries to develop programmatic capacities to address nano issues at the national level. Some countries will undertake pilot projects aimed to develop and/or strengthen capacities to address Nanotechnology and Manufactured Nanomaterials within their national frameworks. These projects, which are provided with funding support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), will generate experiences and lessons learned that will be transmitted for deliberation at the third International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM3), to be held in mid-2012.

The question isn’t only being asked by the OECD and other international organizations. In a recent Ask a Nobel Laureate series on the Nobel Organization’s YouTube channel, a young woman from Bangalore asks Nobel Laureate Albert Fert the question, How could nanotechnology be used in the developing world,

Unfortunately, I can’t include the answer but you can go here if you’re curious. Fert suggests strongly that nanotechnology not be viewed as separate from other sciences but (I’m extemporizing here) as a logical direction for the sciences we practice. He goes on to note that developing should focus on science generally and that nanotechnology might be the most difficult for developing countries to establish as the costs are very high.

Ineke Malsch at The Broker asks in her June 1, 2010 posting,

How can we ensure that poor people in the least developed countries really benefit from the current big investments in nanoscience and nanotechnology in the world? For example, the shortage of clean potable water has many victims in developing countries each year. Will the solutions to be developed in Dutch nanotechnology and water research centres over the coming years be suitable for use in tropical conditions, or places without much infrastructure? Not necessarily. Even in water-rich and wealthy countries like the Netherlands, future shortages of clean and drinkable water are looming. Researchers and the utility companies responsible for our water supply may give preference to nanotechnology applications that only work if they are incorporated into the existing infrastructure for sewage treatment or the purification of surface or ground water.

Early cooperation with nanoscientists in developing countries, who are also working on water purification, may contribute to solutions that are also useful in remote areas of the least developed countries. Hopefully, initiatives like the recent series of webinars on nanotechnology for water purification, which involved speakers from South Africa and Europe, will turn out to be steps in the right direction.

You may want to check out Ineke Malsch as she does post regularly on these issues.

From what I can tell basic needs must be met first and clean water (mentioned in Malsch’s posting) certainly comes under that category.  What we need to do is to ensure clean water through the most practical and least harmful means for the greatest number of people. Some of the work being done in this area suggests that nano-enabled technologies may be the best means for achieving that goal. Personally, I don’t care which technology is used to that end.

Nanotechnology strategies everywhere except Canada; Visible Verse 2009; OECD workshops on nanotech in developing world

There’s an article by Michael Berger on Nanowerk titled, European strategy for nanotechnology and the nanotechnology Action Plan, where he outlines the European Union’s approach to creating a strategy, contrasts it in a few asides (launching potshots at the Europeans) with the US approach, and provides some handy links. Coincidentally there’s a news item on Nanowerk about RUSNANO (the Russian publicly funded nanotech investment agency) visiting Sweden. From the news item,

A RUSNANO delegation headed by CEO Anatoly Chubais will visit Sweden on November 19-20, 2009 to study the support that government offers for innovative developments, share with Sweden’s business and scientific communities the goals and principles that guide RUSNANO’s activities and discuss opportunities to collaborate in commercialization of nanotechnologies with their Swedish counterparts.

Canada hosted RUSNANO a few months back for similar purposes but interestingly there was no mention of studying “the support that government offers for innovative developments … ” and I’m not sure if it’s because there isn’t a support framework, official or otherwise, in Canada or if they failed to mention it in the news release. (I strongly suspect the former.) I blogged here about RUSNANO’s visit to Canada at the time.

Taking Sweden and the UK as examples, it would seem that European countries have both a European Union framework and an individual country framework for nanotechnology. The US has its National Nanotechnology Initiative (in place since 2000). China will provide some sort of insight into its nanotechnology plans via its road map series which I mentioned briefly here. Canada remains mute. You can view the National Institute of Nanotechnology’s website but you’d be hard pressed to find any details about an overall strategy for nanotechnology scientific research, public engagement, business support, education, social impact  etc. (Despite the institute’s name that’s probably not in their scope of responsibilities but I can’t find that information anywhere.) You will find a list of the institute’s research areas but you won’t find an overview of the Canadian nanotech research scene or much of anything else (to date they have distributed three news releases in 2009 and none in 2008 but 2007 was a banner year, there were four).

For a brief respite from the nano, Heather Haley’s See the Voice: Visible Verse 2009 (video poetry festival) is being held tonight (Thursday, November 19, 2009) at Pacific Cinematheque at 7:30 pm, 1131 Howe St. Vancouver, Canada. You can buy tickets or read more about it here.

Back to the international nanotechnology front: The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) are holding joint nanotechnology awareness workshops for transitional and developing countries. You can read more about them in the news item on Nanowerk.

Edited at 3:05 pm PST, Nov. 19.09 to change electronic poetry to video poetry.