Artificial intelligence (AI) can contribute greatly to transforming development models in Latin America and the Caribbean to make them more productive, inclusive and sustainable, but reflection, a strategic vision, regulation, and regional and multilateral coordination are needed to harness its opportunities and minimize its potential threats, according to the authorities and specialists attending the launch of the first Latin American Artificial Intelligence Index at ECLAC today.
The event entitled AI for Sustainable Development in Latin America took place at the headquarters of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile and featured welcome remarks by José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, who stressed the need for “artificial intelligence to be addressed explicitly and deliberately in the framework of the productive development policies of the region’s countries and their territories.”
To take full advantage of the potential of artificial intelligence, an enabling environment is needed that would include digital infrastructure, data availability, digital skills and innovation capacities and digital entrepreneurship, said the senior United Nations official, welcoming the Index’s development by Chile’s National Center for Artificial Intelligence (CENIA).
However, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs emphasized that “we must be very watchful of the ethical questions related to its implementation and we must analyze in-depth the challenges related to data privacy, as well as the biases and discrimination in decisions based on intelligent algorithms.”
“These are all aspects that we have been working on with our Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean (eLAC), ahead of the Ninth Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held in Santiago, Chile in 2024,” he explained.
“ECLAC, as the technical secretariat of eLAC, and thanks to support from the European Union through the EU-Latin America and the Caribbean Digital Alliance, will keep supporting the region’s countries so they can make progress on building enabling environments, linking digital transformation efforts to productive development ones, and seeking to provide data governance that would allow for forging the path towards sustainable and inclusive development,” ECLAC’s Executive Secretary stated.
Also speaking at the event were Ewout Sandker, Head of Cooperation of the European Union Delegation in Chile; Aisén Etcheverry, Chile’s Minister of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation, who made a presentation on artificial intelligence and scientific development in Latin America; and Eve Andersson, Senior Director at Google Alphabet, who delivered a keynote address entitled “Using AI to build inclusive technology.”
Artificial intelligence “is an issue that has great potential for bi-regional cooperation,” Ewout Sandker sustained. “One of the main outcomes of the EU-CELAC Summit on July 17 and 18 was the European Union-Latin America and the Caribbean Digital Alliance, which gave rise to a joint commitment to promote a digital transformation with an approach centered on human beings.”
“When we look at challenges related to regulation or public policy development, and we do so with a multilateral perspective, what we achieve are international standards that help technology to be developed in a good way and ensure that the values underpinning that technological development are shared by countries and nations with similar thinking. And that is a great contribution of this community with regard to science and technology that has been generated not just in Chile but in the rest of Latin America as well,” Minister Aisén Etcheverry underlined.
“We are sure that the first Latin American Artificial Intelligence Index will be a tremendous contribution to public policy development, which will join the shared efforts that many of our countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are making,” the head of Chile’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation affirmed.
In her remarks, Eve Andersson, Senior Director at Google Alphabet, addressed the use of AI to create inclusive technology, providing numerous concrete examples. “At Google we have developed software in the areas of accessibility for people with disabilities and equity and inclusion,” she indicated, emphasizing that “technology can be used to overcome natural human biases,” such as gender.
The first Latin American Artificial Intelligence Index was developed by CENIA with support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Organization of American States (OAS), in addition to technical assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Stanford University’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI).
It is a pioneering study that reveals the state of AI in 12 of the region’s countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, Brazil and Mexico, according to Álvaro Soto, Director of CENIA, and Rodrigo Durán Rojas, that institution’s Director of Outreach.
The Index, also known as ILIA, takes into account the region’s material, social and cultural context and analyzes five dimensions: enabling factors (elements that are necessary for a robust AI system to be developed in a country); research, development and adoption; governance (the degree to which the institutional environment has been developed); perception (prevailing topics on social networks and digital media); and foresight (academic trends and expert views on the social impact).
“Latin America is a region as diverse as its landscapes. There are countries with tremendous development of artificial intelligence in relative terms” and others where the situation is different,” said Rodrigo Durán. No single country brings together all the aspects considered to be essential in this index, but all of them have something to learn from the rest and all of them have something to teach the others, the representative stressed. Mexico and Brazil account for nearly 95% of artificial intelligence patents, he gave as an example.
There is a very close correlation between enabling factors and relative performance at a regional level, Durán stated. That is why public policies and international cooperation organizations should focus their attention on enabling factors in order to achieve a swifter, more sustainable and just development of artificial intelligence systems, he concluded.
The event included a panel to debate the need to move towards the region’s own vision regarding the benefits and threats of AI, its link to digital transformation agendas and its productive, social and institutional impact.