On the last day of #IGF2017, only the able few were left as the number of participants dramatically dropped. The first session of the day was on: ‘Exploring Implications of Big and Artificial Intelligence for Knowledge Societies and SDGs’ was organised as an open forum by UNESCO to trigger debates and reflections on the human rights and other implications of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) on building inclusive knowledge societies and achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Big data and open data are evolving and contested concepts, as is the significance of the phenomena they point to. Debates exist over issues such as ownership, accountability and transparency, as well as human rights, evolving techniques, novel applications, reuse and interoperability of data. Meanwhile, AI is rapidly progressing. Intelligent machines are gaining the ability to communicate without human mediation via the Internet of things, learn, improve and make calculated decisions in ways that will enable them to perform tasks previously thought to rely solely on human skill and learning, raising issues for the future of learning, experience, creativity, and ingenuity. Many have advocated for human rights based, human rights oriented approach to be always taken when dealing in all technologies, such as AI and Big Data need to develop human rights rather than blocking our threat to any of them including personal data, privacy, and personal security. One of fundamental values advocated by UNESCO in the digital era is that internet should be open technology and internet industry should be open, and open innovation should be encouraged. Openness is a crucial feature of the internet. Another fundamental value related to the universality of internet is accessibility and universal access.
The session on: ‘Internet Shutdowns Taking a Toll on Africa’s Internet Economy’ revealed that in 2016 alone, 11 countries have been faced with Internet shutdowns in Africa, leading to about a loss of 237 million U.S. dollars according to research by Brookings Institute. Internet shutdowns have become a mainstay in Africa. 2017 witnessed internet shutdowns in 8 African countries namely, Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco and Togo. If no action is taken by citizens and organisations against these governments, shutdowns and restriction of access will continue to rise and the economic costs will increase over the next few years.
The most lively session of the morning was on: ‘Fake news, Content Regulation and Platformization of the Web: A Global South Perspective’ which was aimed at addressing two key questions: first, whether this platformization of the web is accompanied by adequate safeguards in context of online content regulation in the Global South. Second, how current internet governance frameworks and processes find relevance in the age of platformization of the internet. These issues were started by the same organizers at RightsCon (Brussels, 2017) during a panel entitled ‘Resisting Content Regulation in the Post-Truth World: How to Fix Fake News and the Algorithmic Curation of Social Media’. In Egypt, facebook is a crucial part of everyday life for both citizens and governments and newspapers. To illustrate this, Egyptian authorities are known to use Facebook to identify people at checkpoints so if you do not have your ID documents, they will ask you to show your Facebook profile. Similarly, facebook is routinely checked by Egyptian police and people get arrested for what they post – something that happens on a very regular basis. Interestingly in a country like Egypt where so many websites have been blocked by the government, social media platforms like facebook and twitter are freely accessible however the government closely monitors the activity on these platforms. The important lesson to learn from the Egyptian experience is that the discussion about content regulation online also involves offline intimidation and arrest of citizens that ultimately impacts freedom of expression. Meanwhile in Iran, the messaging platform Telegram is ubiquitous with about 40 to 45 million monthly users out of a total population of 80 million people. Twitter and Facebook are blocked and internet speeds are often throttled. In 2015, the government tried to have a channel called Ahmed News blocked and when Telegram declined to do so individuals ostensibly affiliated with the government started spamming and other campaigns on television to block out Ahmed news. In recent years, the government has sought to sensor and control Telegram in Iran. The Iranian government has made it mandatory for anyone inside of the country who runs telegram channels to seek permission and get a license to run a channel that has more than 5,000 followers. This has led to the fact that the government now has information on a lot of social media users and telegram administrators and there has been a series of crackdowns where they have had administrators and others arrested.
The last session of the day was on: ‘Digital Transformation: How Do We Shape its Socioeconomic and Labor Impacts for Good?’ aimed to facilitate a thoughtful dialogue on the process of digitization and digital transformation, examining its effect on the global value chain, new business models, and the future workforce. Cross-border data flow has accelerated economic globalization while the flows of international trade and finance have flattened since 2008. The increase in digital flows is underpinned by a process of statistically-evidenced vertiginous digitization. The digitization of products that were traditionally delivered physically but can also be transmitted electronically over the Internet, plays an important role in this process, opens new possibilities for e-commerce, and is an essential part of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The increased use of data will be required to realize the potential of the digital transformation. In the near future, data flows will increase under the pervasive Internet of Things (IoT). Data analytics, machine learning, and AI are perceived to be fundamental to the transformation of both developed and developing economics. Under the ‘sharing economy’, digital platforms enable direct exchanges between service providers and potential customers. They also reshape organizations and the future of the work, necessitating a dialogue about how to enable an inclusive digital transformation which benefits everyone.