This year marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). As the global community reflects on progress made to date, one change from the world of 1989 will significantly impact the next 30 years for children’s rights: artificial intelligence (AI). Recent progress in the development of AI systems are expected to profoundly influence life and work in the 21st century, raising both hopes and concerns for human development. As UNICEF explores the many compelling reasons to use AI for children’s development (such as education, health and social welfare), it is also concerned about a world in which AI remains unchecked.
AI systems, often working as “black boxes”, raise issues of privacy, accountability, recourse and exclusion, particularly for those who are least aware of their rights in the digital age: children. Without a human-centered foundation to AI development, children’s rights to learn, play and participate freely are at risk. Children need to be protected in an AI world, but they also need to be prepared to fully engage it. In addition to putting safeguards and ethical standards in place, we need to prepare children for the AI future by teaching them AI skills and literacies.
Currently, there is a window of opportunity to lay down the foundations that will guide the development of software, algorithms and data standards – as well as policies related to AI in society – needed to maximize the benefits and limit the risks of AI systems. However, UNICEF has noted that in most national AI policies and corporate strategies there appears to be little attention paid to children’s rights, needs and the impact of AI on them. This must change as children stand to gain and lose the most when it comes to AI.
UNICEF, in partnership with the IEEE Standards Association and in collaboration with the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet & Society, the World Economic Forum and other organizations part of Generation AI, is therefore developing a policy guidance for AI and child rights aimed at governments, corporations and UN agencies. We are hosting a workshop with around 50 experts to lay down the roadmap for the policy project.