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UN’s Faremo eyes artificial intelligence potential for SDGs at IPsoft ‘Digital Summit’

By Roger Aitken

Speaking at the Second Annual Digital Workforce Summit hosted by IPsoft in New York early this June, Grete Faremo, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), said that the potential for Artificial Intelligence (AI) was “undeniable” and saw the possibility that AI has help “fulfill the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).”

 The event held at Cipriani’s in lower Manhattan, which saw around 600 delegates attend, witnessed a number of keynote addresses including being human in the age of AI from Professor Max Tegmark at MIT; AI for global good presented by Simon Moss, co-founder of Global Citizen; and, the impact of AI from Anthony Abattista, Global Cognitive Advantage Leader, Deloitte. 

 While the exact definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be broad, one thing is certain in that there will be impacts on society. And, IPsoft’s Digital Workforce Summit sought to provide a range of speakers from industry, IT and academia to explore some of the hot issues around AI. Taking centre stage in the proceedings was ‘Amelia’, touted as the “world’s most human AI platform” by IPsoft, a recognized leader in Enterprise AI.

On the AI front some big numbers were being cited at the former Cunard Shipping booking office in New York’s financial district. Anurag Harsh, Chief Marketing Officer for IPsoft, referred in opening remarks to research by Gartner that has suggested AI will create more jobs than it eliminates by 2020 - 2.3 million (m) created versus 1.8m eliminated. And, in 2021, AI augmentation will generate $2.9 trillion in business value and recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity. Though the impact will vary by industry, Gartner sees AI as becoming a positive job motivator.

IPsoft’s Harsh said: “The business of AI is here despite all the noise, and on the way to becoming business as usual.

Given that UNOPS, a service provider, works with partners in both the public and private sector, such as other UN agencies, international financial institutions, national governments, foundations and private companies, the scope of their work is extensive in building a more sustainable future for people in countries outside the OECD.

For example, their activities include building roads and schools in places like Afghanistan and South Sudan, helping governments deliver healthcare to their populations, through national medical procurement in places like Honduras and Guatemala, and developing off-grid renewable energy projects covering nations in places like Sierra Leone. 

The list spans around a thousand projects a year in 80-plus countries and last year UNOPS’ turnover equated c.$1.8 billion. And, with the demand for their services growing at a “significant pace’ and a need to manage being critical through efficient processes, Faremo, said: “This is why we are looking closely at the opportunities and challenges 

As such the UN family are trying to see how “frontier technologies” can help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with real and meaningful changes in the future work and societies, Faremo pointed out. Their agenda is ambitious too with the 17 global goals having 169 targets, which aim to create a world that is sustainable, environmentally secure, economically prosperous and inclusive.

The former Norwegian government minister for 10 years under three different Prime Ministers who worked also for Microsoft as Director of Law & Corporate Affairs (Northern/Western Europe), added: “It is clear. The SDGs will require a step change in how to deliver services to the citizens and the levels of both public and private investment in all countries. We know that traditional ways of financing development alone are insufficient.”

Referring specifically to areas where AI play a part in helping the UN’s work - on climate change, healthcare, energy and regions most in need - Faremo nevertheless cautioned that “we should not ignore those who perceive AI as an area in urgent need of regulation.”

That said, she added: “Standing here today from the UN, when I hear others talk, I immediately jump to the role AI could play to help accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  This is my focus. And it should be yours too.”

Her speech revealed that AI has reached into the agricultural sector of UN work too. The technology can also help predict the path of storms and track the spread of diseases, both of which hit poor communities especially hard. “But whatever AI tools governments, policymakers and humanitarian organizations use, it's important to use them where they'll do the most good,” Faremo concluded. 

Concurrently with this event in New York, IPsoft launched Amelia City, an interactive, AI laboratory showcasing the evolution of AI together with off-the-shelf AI solutions for banking, telecom, hospitality, insurance and healthcare industries. For more information on Amelia City see: https://info.ipsoft.com/amelia-city