Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are fundamentally changing the world and affecting present and future generations of children. Children are already interacting with AI technologies in many different ways:
- AI are embedded in toys, virtual assistants and video games, and are used to drive chatbots and adaptive learning software.
- Algorithms provide recommendations to children on what videos to watch next, what news to read, what music to listen to and who to be friends with.
- Children’s lives and well-being are also indirectly impacted by automated decision-making systems that determine issues as varied as welfare subsidies, quality of health care and education access, and their families’ housing applications.
This impact has implications for all children, including those from developing countries who may be equally impacted by lost opportunities as a result of not being able to enjoy the benefits of AI systems.
UNICEF and Artificial Intelligence
As the world’s leading organization for children, UNICEF recognizes the potential that AI systems have for supporting every child’s development. We are leveraging AI systems to improve our programming, including mapping the digital connectivity of schools, predicting the spread of diseases and improving poverty estimation.
While AI is a force for innovation and can support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it also poses risks for children, such as to their privacy, safety and security. Since AI systems can work unnoticed and at great scale, the risk of widespread exclusion and discrimination is real.
As more and more decisions are delegated to intelligent systems, we are also forced, in the words of a UN High Level Panel, to “rethink our understandings of human dignity and agency, as algorithms are increasingly sophisticated at manipulating our choices.”
For children’s agency, this rethinking is critical. Due to the extensive social, economic and ethical implications of AI technologies, governments and many organizations are setting guidelines for its development and implementation. However, even though the rights of children need acute attention in the digital age, this is not being reflected in the global policy and implementation efforts to make AI systems serve society better.
Simply put: children interact with or are impacted by AI systems that are not designed for them, and current policies do not address this. Furthermore, whatever is known about how children interact with and are impacted by AI is just the start.
The disruptive effects of artificial intelligence will transform children’s lives in ways we cannot yet understand, for better or for worse. Our collective actions on AI today are critical for shaping a future that children deserve.
Efforts to democratize the benefits of AI systems for all children urgently need to be broadened. The first step is to recognize the unique opportunities and risks that AI systems represent for children, and then to act to leverage and mitigate them, respectively, in ways that recognize the different contexts of children, especially those from marginalized communities.
Children’s varied characteristics, such as their developmental stages and different learning abilities, need to be considered in the design and implementation of AI systems.
Please Provide Your Feedback
In partnership with the Government of Finland, UNICEF offers this Draft Policy Guidance on AI for Children as a complement to efforts to promote human-centric AI, by introducing a child rights lens. The ultimate purpose of the guidance is to aid the protection and empowerment of children in interactions with AI systems and enable access to its benefits in all aspects of life.
UNICEF is seeking input from stakeholders who are interested in or working in areas related to the fields of artificial intelligence and children’s rights. This includes AI developers and deployers, companies, government agencies, civil society, international organizations, academics and adult and child citizens.
We invite you to provide feedback by October 16, 2020.
In order to ensure AI systems’ continued alignment with the rights and situations of children, this guidance should be seen as a starting contribution to child-centred AI. The next version, which will include input from this open consultation, will be released in 2021.