FAO Director-General QU Dongyu recently became one of the first signatories of a ethical resolution on Artificial Intelligence (AI) endorsed by Pope Francis, stressing the importance of minimising this new technology’s risks while exploiting its potential benefits.
“Artificial Intelligence needs to be transparent, inclusive, socially beneficial and accountable,” Qu said, adding: “We need to ensure the human-centric approach in designing and implementing artificial intelligence today and in the future.”
The FAO Director-General joined Italy’s Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitalisation, Paola Pisano, Microsoft President Brad Smith and IBM Executive Vice President John Kelly III in signing the “Rome Call for AI Ethics” in a ceremony presided by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. European Parliament President Davide Sassoli was also in attendance.
In a message read out on his behalf at the event, Pope Francis said, “The scope and acceleration of the transformations of digital era have in fact raised unforeseen problems and situations that challenge our individual and collective ethos. To be sure, the Call that you have signed today is an important step in this direction, with its three fundamental coordinates along which to journey: ethics, education and law.”
The Rome Call for AI Ethics refers to the need for “a highly sustainable approach, which also includes the use of artificial intelligence in insuring sustainable food systems in the future.” And speaking during a debate that preceded the signing ceremony, the FAO Director-General noted that “from a food system transformation perspective, we look at digitalisation, big data and artificial intelligence as sources of hope”.
But he also pointed to the need to bridge the divide between developed and developing countries – 6 billion people are without broadband today, 4 billion without internet, 2 billion without mobile phones and 400 million people are without a digital signal.
Additionally, he noted there are significant gaps between men and women, young and old, and rich and poor, and also a gap in promoting dialogue, creating synergies and enhancing awareness for issues specific to digital agriculture
Fundamental shift in agriculture towards digitalisation
Qu cited the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture, proposed by FAO and endorsed by 76 ministers earlier this year in Berlin. The Platform will strive to engage all actors, players and stakeholders within the agri-food system, and will activate cross-sectorial and cross-competence experts to consolidate, enhance and diffuse the state of digitalisation in the sector with a strategic approach.
In addition, the Platform will help governments to identify the potential of digitalisation, to enable stakeholders to access and benefit from digital technologies and it will facilitate dialogue, raise awareness and build trust in digital technologies.
“We are convinced that transforming our food systems to feed the world will be achieved with a digital agriculture,” the Director-General said. “FAO is ready to play its part as a facilitator and as a knowledge organisation in this significant endeavour,” he added, noting how the UN agency is analysing big data and using new technologies including satellite imaging, remote sensors, mobile and blockchain applications.
FAO uses many of these tools in projects to optimise food chains, manage water resources, fight pests and diseases, monitor forests, identify species, increase preparedness of farmers when disasters strike and in many other activities.