UNIGF Day 1-2: Connecting the Next Billions

This is the second part of the series on our week at the UNIGF. See part one here.

Kia ora,

It's officially Day Two here in Geneva and after traipsing through the snow from my hotel to the United Nations Offices yesterday, I spend my day talking about digital access and participation for women and people in developing nations, and the various lenses you can look at these challenges from.

I was often reminded that some of the conditions faced by people globally are alien to New Zealanders, and that we have our own unique challenges. One woman spoke of a perception in her nation that women who have access to the Internet is that they are adulterers, and exposed to ideas that their community do not want them to have. The agency a woman can access through the internet is seen as dangerous and undesirable.

With that perspective, I approached today with an open mind to the experiences of different people around the world, realising how many rights and privileges I take for granted.

Here are a few notes on some sessions I took part in over the past two days:

Social Responsibility and Ethics in Artificial Intelligence: An East-West Dialogue

I was a little late to this session due to the security checks at the start of the day, but once I got in the room, I got to see some interesting back and forth between the panellists on what the future of education in a world of artificial intelligence might look like.

Largely there was a dismissal of the potential impact of artificial intelligence, automation, and the fourth industrial revolution would have on employment. No one thought that a Universal Basic Income was sustainable, but they also didn't deem it necessary, as they were confident that as old jobs are lost to automation, new ones are created. I'm not sure they remember the luddites.

Digital Inclusion for Women: Scaling Up Our Efforts and A Playbook for Gender Equality: How to Harness the Power of Digital Media & Emerging Tech

These were two back to back sessions on empowering women to have agency and capability online globally. Digital Inclusion for Women explored the unique obstacles women face in getting online and gaining meaningful digital access, while 'A Playbook for Gender Equality" was an interactive session where we contributed our ideas on how to push for gender equality in access and participation in STEM through education, culture, and governance,

Content Regulation in the Digital Age: A Conversation with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

This session explored some ideas around moderation of social media platforms, which I think will become more important as our understanding matures regarding false information and trolls online.

The panellists highlights the dangers of automated of moderation. Automated moderation is when you report spam, or abuse on a platform like Twitter and Facebook, and instead of a human deciding the legitimacy of your concern, an algorithm makes the call.

This has dangerous side effects:

  • Trolls can learn to game the algorithm and use it to attack individuals.
  • Governments can learn to game the algorithm and use it to attack people they disagree with
  • The algorithms tend on the side of overblocking, which means they will block or remove legitimate free speech

As machine learning finds new applications, we need to ensure we are building applications with these issues in mind. Algorithms can exacerbate existing biases, and shut out real genuine (and human rights protected) freedom of expression.

Opening Ceremony

The formal proceedings of the day, the opening ceremony of the conference featured an inspiring speech from Ms. Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation, who encouraged us to be bold with our work, as well as appearances from the UN secretary-general, the secretary of ITU, and the mayor of Switzerland.

(Full list of Very Important People who were featured in the opening ceremony here: https://igf2017.sched.com/event/CSCg/opening-ceremony )

I asked Jordan what session or sessions had caught his attention in Day 0 or today. Here's what he had to share:

One of my pet topics is the future of the domain name system. So yesterday and today, I listened to two sessions tackling this. If I was to sum up the key challenge, it'd be something like this:

Will the Internet's Domain Name System stand as the primary identifier system either on its own or at the core of a network of various identifiers, or will there be a broader shift to a fragmented identifier environment - or most radically, will the DNS fade into the past?

Lots of ideas and perspectives shared, from alternative identifiers (eg the Digital Object Architecture folks or Etherium) to reflections by pioneers on the limits and challenges of the DNS.

My take is the DNS will remain dominant for now given its fitness for its primary purpose and how embedded it is - in various sorts of infrastructure as well as commonly used services. It also happens to have a fairly well established and open governance structure - the so-called multi stakeholder model. This approach supports the resilience of the DNS and makes sure that the widest array of perspectives can help shape its future.

The opportunity and challenge of new (challenger?)identifier systems is to be very very clear about what problems they are trying to solve. Clarity here will allow these systems to fill a niche. In the best possible world, the rise of a more diverse identifier environment could reduce the pressure on the DNS itself to be the answer to all the problems in this area, as it sometimes tries to be. An end to that expectation-overload could be good for everyone.

Besides that topic, I've been prepping for a session on internet governance at which I'm speaking tomorrow, and looking forward to a subsequent session on 'The Impact of Digitization on politics, public trust and democracy.' I was also sad to miss the content session Nicola did make it along to.

How to participate

The UNIGF is from the 17th til the 21st of December. Switzerland is 12 hours behind New Zealand, so unless you are a night owl it will be hard work watching the livestreams, but you can access them here: http://www.intgovforum.org/webcast/ You can also check out the hashtag #IGF2017