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  • Nancy Nemes

"AI for Good" Summit in Geneva goes well beyond tech

Much has been written, said and philosophised about Artificial Intelligence in the last months. From defining the field itself (there is no one single definition!), to defining the I or the A in AI, to replacing the A in Artificial with other words such as Augmented (Augmented Intelligence), to defining ethics for AI... much of the conversation is centered around the humanistic aspects such as building trust, diversity, responsibility in AI or building emotional AI. Connecting AI and humanities makes it easier for people to relate to and to understand this broad field and it allows for greater cross-pollination across disciplines. Which is key to success in this field. As the ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao noted:



Today, I would like to show 3 examples of the most intriguing applications of AI I saw at the United Nations summit AI for Good in Geneva. And I’ll provide a short summary of the Panel I had the pleasure to chair on “Socially Inclusive AI” on May 28 (you can watch the webcast here – it starts at 08:30).


There were more than 150 use cases on how AI can be used for Good, including areas like ending poverty, resolving hunger, health, peace, justice and more. You can read all about it on the summit’s webpage. What I want to focus on here are 3 of the most intriguing combinations of AI and Creativity:

1. AI StorytellingDavar Ardalan (storyteller and former journalist at the prestigious NPR News) and her team have founded a start-up called IVOW. It is an AI-powered storytelling agency building conversational AI powered by global voices and leveraging data for smart and culturally rich stories. They are asking impactful questions such as: Can storytelling build capacity in AI systems? Can stories help machines develop Cultural IQ? How can we bring global voices to AI? They unveiled early research into the development of Sina, a conversational AI with a deep curiosity for global heritage. They also showcased how a current AI model can meet ancient legends. IVOW stands for Voices of Wisdom and aim to train the next generation ​of artificial intelligence to be deeply inclusive. I liked this approach a lot!

2. SAPIEN21 founded by Dr. Lydia Kostopoulos is a hybrid training and research venture that believes that the art of the possible is much broader and magical than people believe. #ArtAboutAI is an avant-garde attempt to make artificial intelligence more accessible for an informed civic debate. Creating art about emerging technologies in efforts to provoke discussion and raise awareness around their functionality and ethical questions. Dr. Kostopoulos’s background in national security and education lends a fresh perspective to her art work with references to controversial ethical debates about AI. Looking into what AI means for society and humanity, their work provokes creative thinking across disciplines. Watch this space!

3. NARCISS and Gestaltungsmachine Innovationcamp. This was one of the best exhibitions featuring works by Christian “Mio” Loclair, Roman Lipski and Sascha Pohflepp. Narciss, by Christian Mio Loclair, is an AI seemingly reflecting on its own existence. Christian is the creative director at Waltz Binaire, new media artist, computer scientist and choreographer. This combination allows him to build artwork as a machine that analyzes its own physical embodiment with the sole purpose of describing its thoughts while looking at itself. Looking into human consciousness and self-awareness, the awareness of our existence, our body, our mind, the core questions he is asking are: Can an artificial intelligence recognize itself? What do we always look at, but never fully understand? Their performance at the UN Palais des Nations, in the Salle des droits de l’homme, showed how man and machine could come together to augment the boundaries of human creativity and genius. Absolutely intriguing use case of AI! You can see more on their webpage with the creative name Waltz Binaire.


This was the third annual AI for Good summit and brought together governments, industry, academia, media, and all 37 United Agencies. Key sponsors were my former employer Microsoft, ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) and XPRIZE. During the panel I chaired a panel on Socially Inclusive AI. We discussed the necessary action steps towards developing socially inclusive applications that recognizes digital identity as a human right, promotes gender, age, and racial equity, and is inclusive.


Nancy Nemes chairing a panel on "Socially Inclusive AI"

The speakers were: Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, a strong advocate for tech gender diversity and the first woman to reach the rank of D2 within ITU (which is the highest civil servant ranking in the organization), noted that "There is a huge & urgent need for multi-stakeholder dialogue around AI in the public policy sphere. And this time we need to ensure that this dialogue is broadly inclusive. Technology is not an end in itself; it is a tool to improve human lives. Governments and business leaders need to start working together on a digital development agenda that improves lives & mitigates some of the foreseeable downsides of AI”. Natasa Milic-Frayling represented ACM Women Europe as their Chair of Data Science. As a professor at the University of Nottingham, and CEO of Intact Digital, she has a long track record in interdisciplinary research, both in industry and academia. She collaborates with a broader community on the issues of ethics and transparency in computing design, knowledge transfer, and digital continuity. She gave key insights into what socially inclusive AI is and what is not, why are we talking about AI and society and what is its expected trajectory. Evans Woherem, Founder and Chairman of, Digital Africa, is an accomplished computer systems expert and Africa’s most famous banking technology advisor. Founder and Chairman of Digital Africa, Evans is working on preparing Africa for the 4th Industrial Revolution and is a strong advocate for moving Africa from being a passive consumer to an active participant in the innovation and use of digital technology. He discussed some of the massive economic developments of Africa and the empowerment of its entrepreneurs through business and educational institutions. Shamika N. Sirimanne, Director of the Division on Technology and Logistics at UNCTAD discussed the current issues that are are constraining AI’s application for social good such as shortage of AI talent or data accessibility for all. Shamika has extensive experience in development policy, research and technical cooperation gained from international organizations, national governments, think tanks and universities and noted “There are no guarantees when it comes to gains, especially for least developed countries”. John Kamara, Director of the Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa and Ambassador of City AI for Nairobi and Lagos, has vast experience in new markets and verticals across e-commerce, internet solutions, digital applications, and financial payment solutions. John is also Founder of Jamborow and of AI-Health. As he is involved in gaming, fintech and health-tech using technologies like blockchain and AI, he gave practical insights and encouraged everyone to “think big and land somewhere that allows you to galvanise your land grab & pivot quickly”. Ashley van Heteren is Associate Principal at McKinsey & Company, leading their AI for social good initiatives globally, and co-author of the McKinsey Global Institute report, Applying AI for Social Good. Their work focusses on helping the unemployed, combatting the growing measles epidemic, helping victims and survivors of human trafficking, and post-disaster reconstruction efforts (ie typhoon, hurricane, etc). With her Ph.D. in medical physics, Ashley was a “data scientist” before the current ubiquitous usage. She gave excellent insights into why AI will have the maximum and real impact in people’s lives when the technology is accurately representative and equitable for all, and if it allows future generations to be ready to participate in the transformations ahead.


Geneva has treated us with wonderful connections to people from various disciplines, with excellent content and with 2 days of amazing weather. It was good for strolling along the Quai du Mont-Blanc at Lake Geneva.


Thank you UN and ITU. I will come back :-)


Quai du Mont-Blanc, Geneve on May 30, 2019


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