A new statement by the Baha’i International Community (BIC) on the role of digital technologies in the advancement of civilization has been presented to the 59th session of the UN Commission for Social Development, which concludes 17 February.
“Humanity is in a period of unprecedented transition,” reads the BIC statement, titled ”Reflections of Our Values: Digital Technologies and a Just Transition.” “Possibilities are opening for marked social change to redefine collective values and underlying assumptions. This is especially evident in the realm of digital technologies.”
The statement highlights the growing consensus that digital technologies are not implicitly neutral, as has become clearer in recent years. “Technological innovation,” it reads, “much like the prevalent development paradigm, is deeply influenced by materialistic underpinnings.”
The statement was at the heart of discussions on Wednesday at an online side event during the Commission, co-hosted by the BIC together with the government of the United Arab Emirates and the NGO Committee for Social Development.
Titled “Artificial Intelligence: Ethical Dimensions of the Virtual World,” the event drew more than 100 diplomats, policy makers, and civil society actors who explored a range of ethical questions such as how artificial intelligence (AI) can address the needs of diverse local communities, and how innovation and regulation can work hand in hand to advance the common good.
Soraya Bagheri, BIC representative and moderator of the event, said, “Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence hold great potential to channel the human spirit to address humanity’s most pressing challenges.”
Speaking of the moral implications of technology, Ms. Bagheri continued, “One challenge we are facing today is that the speed of technological progress has outpaced the ability to reflect.” She highlighted further the need for greater participation of the human family in critical questions concerning humanity’s future, such as how AI and other digital technologies are developed.
Another panelist, Hamad Khatir, Director of International Partnership with the United Arab Emirates Ministry of the Interior, echoed this sentiment, saying, “Inclusivity is a must in designing any software. … The risk of AI being designed only to serve a certain part of the world or part of society is a real possibility … that needs to be clearly assessed against criteria that place human progress at the center of all our goals.”
Eline Chivot, Senior Adviser on Digital Policy for the European People’s Party, commented on the need for common principles in this area, stating: “[principles] give flexibility to apply a code that we can all agree on and we collectively adhere to. A sort of moral compass.”
Drawing on the concepts from the BIC statement, Douglas Allen, a professor at the University of Denver and member of the Baha’i community, spoke about how a just digital future would allow the benefits of productivity and technology to be widely shared, greatly contributing to eliminating extremes of poverty and wealth and “the perception of a zero-sum world.”A recording of the side event can be found here.