Today is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) as designated by the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations' specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICT). This year's theme is, "Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence for All," chosen to highlight the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to accelerate the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In accordance with this year's theme, the ITU is encouraging all member nations to recognize 5 key points:

  1. ICTs are key enablers towards successfully accomplishing the 17 SDGs;
  2. The massive advancement in the A.I. field, thanks to similarly huge advances in technologies such as Big Data/data analysis, machine learning, computing power, storage capacity and cloud computing;
  3. The enormous potential and challenges of increasing A.I. use with regard to the 17 SDGs;
  4. The importance of engaging all stakeholders to fully leverage this potential, and
  5. The importance of partnerships among stakeholders including public / private partnerships (PPPs).

The ITU is also calling on its members to act on A.I. in the following manner:

  1. Support research and development (R&D) to understand and explore opportunities where A.I. could have the most potential impact, keeping in mind the impact on the 17 SDGs;
  2. Identify how A.I. will contribute to achieving the SDGs, e.g. the use of A.I. to improve the efficiency of systems or methodologies supported by evidence-based decision-making;
  3. Support international collaborative efforts and activities to foster innovation using A.I;
  4. Encourage the global sharing of experiences on the use of A.I. in all facets;
  5. Contextualise the use of A.I. to fit regional and national needs, and
  6. Develop national policies and strategies that promote the use of A.I. for the good of all stakeholders.

The call to action from the ITU starkly highlights the regional need for a united, dedicated technological strategy in the face of multiple ICT phenomenons. Far too often, the region falls behind the curve or misses the bus entirely when budding new technologies first show real promise. In an era where technologies are developed and made accessible at an unprecedented rate, the region must upgrade quickly or risk crushing inefficiencies that further hamper resilience and growth.

Recent high-level focus by multiple Caribbean countries on the potentials of blockchain technology are heartening, but differing currencies and macroeconomic priorities prevent the adoption of a collective approach that would have enabled widespread benefit in the Caribbean Basin.

A.I. research, development and use will suffer from insurmountable complexity and poor outcomes if stakeholders do not commit to open, widespread, transparent standards that recognise and protect human rights, human agency, ethics and privacy. The wide array of fears that many intellectuals such as the late Professor Stephen Hawking have regarding the unintended consequences of dependence on A.I. are not without reason.

A widespread, regional agreement on A.I. use and regulation, while admirable, is only the first step. A frequent hurdle in pursuing newer technologies in the region is the lack of obvious and immediate utility in our societies. In my next article, we will go into the short and long term possibilities of A.I. in the Caribbean.