New ITU standards project to define a sustainability passport for digital products

A new ITU standard is under development to describe the information that a sustainability passport for digital products should contain to support consumers, industry and government in applying the principles of circular economy.
The project is underway in ITU’s standardization expert group for ‘environment and circular economy’, ITU-T Study Group 5.
Circular economy can be described as extending a product’s lifespan over multiple lifecycles or increasing the value delivered by a product over its lifespan. Supporting the shift towards circular economy is a key priority for ITU-T Study Group 5, with e-waste now the world’s fastest-growing waste stream.
Experts see considerable potential for a sustainability passport to provide an instrument to help manage e-waste in a sustainable way, on a global scale – e-waste often crosses borders, and often to developing countries ill-equipped to manage a growing e-waste burden.
Our national passports describe our attributes at birth but also record where we have travelled. Should a sustainability passport for digital products be the same?
“Digital products have one set of attributes at manufacture, but these attributes can change over time as products are upgraded, recycled or resold,” highlights the standard’s Editor and Co-Rapporteur for the responsible working group (Q7/5), Leandro Navarro of Spain’s Colegio Oficial Ingenieros de Telecomunicación.
The new standard aims to define the requirements and semantics necessary to represent information relevant to circular product lifecycles. Its development will consider the inclusion of information available at the time of manufacture as well as dynamic information representing changes to product attributes over product lifecycles.
“We need verifiable data to support us in assessing the extent to which we are achieving principles of circular economy and our ambition to achieve net zero emissions,” explains Leandro. “There is currently no international agreement on the product information required to facilitate and achieve circularity in the digital technology industry.”
Clarifying the necessary information could help to put theory into practice, highlights Leandro, making an example of ITU L.1023, an international standard outlining an assessment method for circular scoring.
“Verifiable, machine-readable information could enable automatic comparisons of product attributes relevant to circularity,” says Leandro. "And with the required degree of interoperability, all stakeholders and systems could make use of this information."

Countries ramp up cybersecurity strategies

ITU releases fourth edition of the Global Cybersecurity Index; key 2020 data points to increased commitment
​​​​The latest Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) shows a growing commitment around the world to tackle and reduce cybersecurity threats.
Countries are working to improve their cyber safety despite the challenges of COVID-19 and the rapid shift of everyday activities and socio-economic services into the digital sphere, the newly released 2020 index confirms.
According to GCI 2020, around half of countries globally say they have formed a national computer incident response team (CIRT), indicating an 11 per cent increase since 2018. Rapid uptake of information and communication technologies (ICTs) during the COVID-19 pandemic has put cybersecurity at the forefront.
“In these challenging times, the unprecedented reliance on ICTs to drive society, economy and industry, makes it more important than ever before to secure cyberspace and build confidence among users," affirmed ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao. “Governments and industry need to work together to make ICTs consistently safe and trustworthy for all. The Global Cybersecurity Index is a key element, offering a snapshot of the opportunities and gaps that can be addressed to strengthen every country's digital ecosystem."
Some 64 per cent of countries had adopted a national cybersecurity strategy (NCS) by year-end, while more than 70 per cent conducted cybersecurity awareness campaigns in 2020, compared to 58 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively, in 2018.
Addressing the cyber gap
Many countries and regions lag in key areas. These include:
- ​Cybersecurity skills training, which must be tailored to the needs of citizens, micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs);
Finance, healthcare, energy, and other key sectors, which require dedicated measures to close cybersecurity gaps;
- Critical infrastructure protection, which requires enhancement to meet new and evolving cyber threats;
- Individual data protection, which requires continual reinforcement as online activity expands.
Growing reliance on digital solutions necessitates ever stronger, yet also accessible and user-friendly, data protection measures.

New ITU tools to foster digital development

Data is critical to our goal of connecting the world. It tells us where we were, where we are, what works and what doesn’t. It is a key ingredient of empirical research for establishing correlation, determining causality, identifying good practices, and formulating policy recommendations.
Since the advent of the Internet, data volumes have grown exponentially. And yet, reliable and meaningful data remain surprisingly scant, because producing such data is often complex, costly, and time-consuming.
To enhance its offerings, ITU has released three new tools: an online training course; a new edition of ICT price trends; and the Digital Development Dashboard.
Developing statistical capacity
ITU is responsible for setting the international statistical standards for ICT indicators. The Manual for measuring ICT access and use by households and individuals and the Handbook for the collection of administrative data on telecommunications/ICT describe approximately the 200 or so standards maintained by ITU.
These publications are complemented by capacity development activities on the ground. To reach a broader audience, ITU is also creating several online training courses on ICT statistics. The first, Measuring digital development: Telecommunication/ICT Indicators, is now available for free on the ITU Academy platform.
Tracking the cost of connectivity
The cost of connecting to the Internet partly is one of the key reasons why some 3.7 billion people are still offline and prevents many of the 4 billion who are connected from harnessing the potential of the Internet.
The 2020 edition of ICT price trends provides analyses and compares prices of key ICT services for more than 200 economies, providing unique insights on the status of ICT affordability.
Number of economies achieving the Broadband Commission target with data-only mobile-broadband services. Includes 188 economies for which data is available from 2020 data collection. Source: ICT Price trends 2020, ITU
The report takes stock of progress towards the UN Broadband Commission’s affordability target for 2025, according to which entry-level broadband services – i.e., the cheapest data-only broadband mobile or fixed subscription available – should amount to less than two per cent of monthly gross national income (GNI) per capita.
The report features new measures of affordability that reveal vast disparities within countries: even where the target has been met at country level, services often remain unaffordable for the 40 per cent poorest.
As a complement to the report, a new ICT price app enables users to compare prices of various ICT services across countries and regions and visualise trends going back 10 years.
ICT price trends follow a massive data collection effort by ITU, its Member States, and the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).
Making data more accessible
Hidden data cannot create impact.
The newly launched Digital Development Dashboard provides a user-friendly overview of digital development for 196 economies.
The Dashboard features 37 indicators related to infrastructure and access, Internet use, and enablers and barriers. It presents 10-year trends and comparisons with regional peers. A ‘light’ version is available for mobile and low-resolution devices, while two-page country profiles can be downloaded as PDFs. The underlying data can also be downloaded in Excel format.

UAE regulator puts digital transformation front and centre

The UAE's Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) has taken an important step in advancing the national digital vision.
Formerly the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), we formally updated our identity in April 2021.
This means embracing artificial intelligence (AI), smart cities, and a knowledge-based society and economy.
The new logo reflects our new TDRA’s long-term future vision as a key national regulator. It symbolizes cutting-edge communication via the image of fibre-optic cables. At the same time, our regulator’s new name and identity reflects simplicity and aspiration to deliver customer happiness.
Enhancing innovation
As per a recent Global Innovation Institute report, the recently-renamed TDRA ranked among the top three innovative entities in the Middle East. The institute has accredited several innovations that our regulatory authority developed and implemented at the national and international level.
Leadership in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) depends on original ideas and creativity. These are critical elements of the UAE’s National Agenda 2021. Under that plan, the "United in Knowledge" pillar calls for building a diverse, competitive economy, driven by knowledgeable and innovative Emiratis, as the key to the UAE’s successful long-term development.
As a next step, in cooperation with Abu Dhabi Digital Authority (ADDA) and Smart Dubai, we recently issued national guidelines for 'API-first' business and services.
Application Programming Interface (API) is the best way to link multiple customer-service entities from everywhere at any time. The new guidelines will help government and private entities continually update and link their services and smart applications, with close coordination ensuring a better user experience overall.
ICT investment
Other ongoing TDRA initiatives include support for remote working, distance learning, e-commerce, and e-government services across the country. The UAE also aims to enhance the ICT sector and drive digital transformation in developing countries worldwide. The country – represented by TDRA – maintains close cooperation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), striving to extend logistical and technical support where needed, align digital strategies with sustainable development, lay the foundation for inclusive economic growth, and foster social happiness.
Digital government will be crucial going forward. Under the guidance of the UAE’s national leadership, TDRA intends to keep working closely with other government agencies and with partners across the ICT industry, aiming to envision, foster and cultivate a sustainable long-term digital transformation.
[Source: ITU]

ITU and UNDP join forces to address urgent unmet capacity building needs

The rise of digital technologies and ways of working offers extraordinary new opportunities to further global sustainable development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, from increasing economic resilience to mitigating the damage of COVID-19 and delivering more effective public services. Yet not everyone is equally able to take advantage of these opportunities, particularly as the rapid pace of digital change places further demands on resource-constrained governments and societies.

Bridging the world's digital divide is increasingly urgent, as those who left out of today's digital transformation are in danger of falling further behind. This means ensuring that digital services are available everywhere, as well as affordable and accessible to all.

To address this key issue, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have launched a Joint Facility for Digital Capacity Development to support those not currently served by existing digital capacity development resources or channels.

Supporting UN Efforts in Digital Capacity Development

The Joint Facility stands in support of the UN Secretary-General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which calls for "a broad multi-stakeholder network to promote holistic, inclusive approaches to digital capacity-building for sustainable development, including a new joint facility for digital capacity development, which will be led by ITU and UNDP."

People and communities currently underserved in terms of digital capacity will benefit from more efficient and effective support from the ITU/UNDP Joint Facility, which aims to make digital opportunities accessible to all.

​"Robust and effective digital capacity building underlines the fulfilment of the Secretary-General's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, by supporting countries in their efforts to harness the full potential of digital technology as part of their digital futures", said Assistant Secretary-General Maria Francesca Spatolisano, Officer-in-Charge at the UN Office of the Envoy on Technology.

"The Joint Facility will further strengthen our collective effort to equip people with the needed digital skills, literacy and capabilities, alongside with the multi-stakeholder network for digital capacity development envisioned in the roadmap."

The Joint Facility aims to:
- direct stakeholders to relevant existing ITU/UNDP resources, including digital literacy and skills training;
- identify areas of unmet demand for digital capacity development initiatives and work with end users to develop new interventions when needed;
- identify patterns and trends in unmet stakeholder needs; and
- direct strategic, operational, and programmatic support in executing digital strategies, capacity development initiatives, or other high-priority operational areas for partners.

Digital capacity must be strengthened on both the local and international levels to enable inclusive digital and societal transformation.

While governments are the main target audience, other groups requiring digital capacity support will also benefit from the services offered by the Joint Facility.

Bringing UN Agencies Together for Meaningful Change

The Joint Facility cements the partnership between ITU and UNDP to drive digital capacity development, and intends to have a new single structure facilitating joint resourcing, roles, and responsibilities.

Through its Development Sector, ITU provides direct assistance and capacity development initiatives to bridge the digital divide, promote digital inclusion and facilitate digital transformation for all.

"Making adequate capacity development tools available to all is more important than ever to bridge the digital divide and connect half of the world's population that are still offline," said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau.

"There are many aspects to developing digital skills apart from the actual training. Through the Joint Facility, we will be able to assist countries across the digital skills development value chain from assessing digital capacity needs, advising on digital strategies, and even helping with procurement and raising funds for digital development. We are incredibly excited to work together with the UNDP towards this."

UNDP's wide field presence and topic expertise will help match key local context to relevant digital solutions.

"The lack of sufficient digital skills is a major barrier to reaping the benefits of digitalization and threatens to leave the most marginalized behind," said Robert Opp, UNDP's Chief Digital Officer. "The UNDP is proactively investing in the key area of digital capacity building so that we can all take advantage of digital opportunities together."

While building on existing collaboration between the two agencies, the Joint Facility also paves the way for wider, longer-term collaboration between the UNDP and ITU.​

More information about the Joint Facility can be found at digital-capacity.org.

[source:ITU]

ITU Handbook update: Wireless guidelines to support intelligent transport

As the world’s population approaches 8 billion, with more and more people migrating to ever-expanding cities, life and work are also becoming increasingly mobile.
But while these long-term trends can boost quality of life and create new communities, they also bring unprecedented traffic congestion, air pollution, and road safety challenges.
Managing these negative impacts calls for new levels of intelligence and responsiveness in the world’s transport systems.
Since most of us rely on some form of transport in our everyday lives, a tremendous number of people stand to benefit from smarter mobility.
What are ITS?
Intelligent transport systems (ITS) combine computers, communications, positioning, and automation technologies to improve the safety, management, and efficiency of terrestrial transportation.
Systems using wireless communications, sensors, and computer and control technologies are well placed to ease traffic congestion and reduce incidents. Communication standards ensure interoperability and make ITS easy for anyone to use.
Land Mobile Handbook updated
Growing ITS use increases the need for well-informed digital infrastructure planning, especially in relation to wireless-based land mobile systems. To strengthen decision-making in this area, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has published an updated volume of a key reference guide, the Handbook on Land Mobile (including Wireless Access), whose fourth volume deals with ITS.
The Handbook is designed to assist in training engineers and planners in regulating, planning, engineering, and deploying these systems, especially in developing countries.
The new Volume 4 replaces the 2006 edition. Development of the multi-volume Handbook began in the late 1990s, aiming to help developing countries build state-of-the-art land mobile services of all kinds.
The five volumes published to date are:
• Volume 1: Fixed Wireless Access
• Volume 2: Principles and Approaches on Evolution to IMT-2000
• Volume 3: Dispatch and Advanced Messaging Systems
• Volume 4: Intelligent Transport Systems
• Volume 5: Deployment of Broadband Wireless Access Systems
Volume 4 summarizes the current and developing use of wireless communications in ITS around the globe, including ITS architecture and applications. Despite rapid uptake, ITS remains in its infancy as a technology.
The new volume gives an overview of wireless communications used in ITS globally by 2020.
It also includes chapters on ITS applications, ITS communication architecture, radio technologies for ITS, and international and national standardization. The final chapter describes radio frequency usage for ITS systems.

The Bahamas strengthens its cybersecurity capacity

The Bahamas has launched a project with ITU to set up a national Computer Incident Response Team (CIRT) to help protect the small island country’s critical digital infrastructure and data.
The National Cybersecurity Project, started in January and officially launched in February at national level, aims to help assess current Bahamian capabilities in this rapidly evolving field, as well as develop its National Cybersecurity Strategy.
The national CIRT will also support the government in building national cybersecurity expertise, closing human resource gaps, and supporting the elaboration of a cybersecurity framework and policies. Bahamian officials must do all they can “to put mechanisms in place to protect the government’s systems and citizens’ data from exposure to [cyber] attacks,” said the State Minister for Finance, Kwasi Thompson.
Digitizing hundreds of government services
The government’s recent decision to digitize more than 200 public administration services over the next five years has heightened the country’s need for a well-equipped cybersecurity team that can identify, defend, manage, and respond to cyber threats, Thompson added.
“The creation of this National Cybersecurity Strategy will help with review and further implementation of cyber legislation for the protection of citizens and clients,” he said.
Rapid growth in online business transactions – among both government entities and the private sector – makes cybersecurity enhancements paramount. The Bahamas, like other small island developing states in the Caribbean, needs to provide a safe online environment that minimizes any risks associated with online service provision.
The project will also support the development of related national cybersecurity platforms, including a national public key infrastructure (PKI), e-government services (including national identity services), and an access management framework.
ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau Director, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, highlighted the project’s region-wide significance. Projects like this one on the Bahamas will strengthen the Caribbean “cybersecurity supply chain” and reinforce international cooperation to combat cyber threats, she said, thanking the Bahamian government for seeking ITU support and expertise.
Building skills and updating tools
Key project objectives include a National CIRT Readiness Assessment, a Cybersecurity Capacity Maturity Model (CMM), a National Cybersecurity Strategy and Action Plan, and all necessary capacity building and service upgrades to activate the national CIRT, said Bruno Ramos, ITU Regional Director for the Americas.
The project is set for full implementation by the end of 2022, with interim steps including six months of ITU support help the CIRT reach maturity.
The national CIRT’s skills and tools will need constant updating, Ramos added. “It is vital to equip the response team with new technologies, deploy additional services, provide technical training, and coordinate and collaborate with other international organizations.”

ITU to advance AI capabilities to contend with natural disasters

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies – has launched a new Focus Group to contend with the increasing prevalence and severity of natural disasters with the help of artificial intelligence (AI).
In close collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the ITU Focus Group on 'AI for natural disaster management' will support global efforts to improve our understanding and modelling of natural hazards and disasters. It will distill emerging best practices to develop a roadmap for international action in AI for natural disaster management.
"With new data and new insight come new powers of prediction able to save countless numbers of lives," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. "This new Focus Group is the latest ITU initiative to ensure that AI fulfils its extraordinary potential to accelerate the innovation required to address the greatest challenges facing humanity."
Clashes with nature impacted 1.5 billion people from 2005 to 2015, with 700,000 lives lost, 1.4 million injured, and 23 million left homeless, according to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 developed by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
AI can advance data collection and handling, improve hazard modelling by extracting complex patterns from a growing volume of geospatial data, and support effective emergency communications. The new Focus Group will analyze relevant use cases of AI to deliver technical reports and accompanying educational materials addressing these three key dimensions of natural disaster management. Its study of emergency communications will consider both technical as well as sociological and demographical aspects of these communications to ensure that they speak to all people at risk.
"This Focus Group looks to AI to help address one of the most pressing issues of our time," noted the Chair of the Focus Group, Monique Kuglitsch, Innovation Manager at ITU member Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute. “We will build on the collective expertise of the communities convened by ITU, WMO and UNEP to develop guidance of value to all stakeholders in natural disaster management. We are calling for the participation of all stakeholders to ensure that we achieve this."
Muralee Thummarukudy, Operations Manager for Crisis Management at UNEP explained: "AI applications can provide efficient science-driven management strategies to support four phases of disaster management: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. By promoting the use and sharing of environmental data and predictive analytics, UNEP is committed to accelerating digital transformation together with ITU and WMO to improve disaster resilience, response and recovery efforts."
The Focus Group's work will pay particular attention to the needs of vulnerable and resource-constrained regions. It will make special effort to support the participation of the countries shown to be most acutely impacted by natural disasters, notably small island developing states (SIDS) and low-income countries.
The proposal to launch the new Focus Group was inspired by discussions at an AI for Good webinar on International Disaster Risk Reduction Day, 13 October 2020, organized by ITU and UNDRR.
"WMO looks forward to a fruitful collaboration with ITU and UNEP and the many prestigious universities and partners committed to this exciting initiative. AI is growing in importance to WMO activities and will help all countries to achieve major advances in disaster management that will leave no one behind," said Jürg Luterbacher, Chief Scientist & Director of Science and Innovation at WMO. "The WMO Disaster Risk Reduction Programme assists countries in protecting lives, livelihoods and property from natural hazards, and it is strengthening meteorological support to humanitarian operations for disaster preparedness through the development of a WMO Coordination Mechanism and Global Multi-Hazard Alert System. Complementary to the Focus Group, we aim to advance knowledge transfer, communication and education – all with a focus on regions where resources are limited."

Digital transformation in Europe: 3 key regulatory priorities for 2021

“Europe's mix of enabling regulatory environments, robust connectivity infrastructure and the lively ecosystem of digital technology providers is fuelling the Region's transformation and has proven critical in the resilience during the COVID 19 pandemic,” remarked Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau at ITU, as she welcomed participants of the ITU Regional Regulatory Forum for Europe on Regulation supporting digital transformation.
Held virtually in 2020, the Regional Regulatory Forum (RRF) is one of several milestones of the ITU Regional Initiative for Europe on Broadband infrastructure, broadcasting and spectrum management.
Organized with the support of the Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services (EKIP) of Montenegro, the Forum was opened by Vladan Djukanovic, EKIP Board Member, who highlighted the dependency which all sectors of economies now have on information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and services, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This dependency requires a strategic approach to connectivity.
3 key priorities for 2021
Beyond recognizing the work of the ITU on the REG4COVID platform and other activities related to policy and regulation, representatives attending the RRF agreed on the following three key strategic priorities for 2021:
- carrying out an assessment of regulatory measures undertaken in the context of COVID-19, including the capacity of internal networks and interconnection with other regions,
- accelerating broadband development to bridge the digital divide, especially in terms of coverage, and
- strengthening international cooperation in the field of regulation.
Sofie Maddens, Head of the BDT’s Regulatory and Market Environment Division, shared an insightful reminder of the changing role of regulation and the need for authorities to adapt their toolbox to ensure actions are fit for purpose and following ITU’s gold standard on “collaborative regulation”, the benchmark of fifth generation (G5) regulation.
Unlocking investment in connectivity
The role of data in supporting the deployment of broadband is a fundamental aspect of digital transformation and regulation. By informing more accurate ‘snapshots’ of markets, data facilitates the design and creation of the regulatory incentives needed to deploy networks efficiently.
During the Forum, ITU, the European Commission, BEREC, the European Investment Bank, the World Bank and UNICEF all presented data-driven approaches to smart decision making to create an enabling environment that unlocks the private investments needed to attain connectivity targets, such as the EU Gigabit Society targets of delivering 100 Mbps to all households by 2025.
Member States also shared their experiences in broadband mapping as a tool to accelerate broadband deployment using infrastructure, service and investment data gathered from network operators. National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) from Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Germany, and Lithuania, which have relatively advanced systems encompassing thousands of operators, other network operators (such as utilities), building companies, local and regional administrations, demonstrated how these platforms can enhance collaboration among various stakeholders and support the allocation of public funding leading to fruitful results.
NRAs from non-EU countries such as Albania, Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia also presented their systems, and outlined their efforts towards unlocking investment whilst protecting competition. Given that the potential for improvements in broadband deployment is greater here than in EU countries, the need to allocate additional resources into mapping systems as fundamental enablers was noted.
Despite the recent progress in many non-EU countries taking steps towards harmonization with EU standards, many challenges remain, ranging from the high fixed and operational costs of setting up mapping systems to human capacity building within administrations, but also across operators.
Realizing untapped potential
While the EU regulatory framework for broadband mapping will undergo considerable revisions in 2021, non-EU countries, particularly in South Eastern Europe, have the potential monitor this process closely and leapfrog, establishing state of the art systems.
The background paper Broadband Mapping Systems in Europe and Regional Harmonization Initiatives focuses on the regulation underpinning broadband mapping systems, which are now essential tools for NRAs to allocate public funding efficiently and fostering cross-sector collaboration and investment whilst protecting competition. The paper traces the development of the European Union’s regulatory framework, its most recent and future developments, the actions undertaken by the European Commission and Member States in the field and, finally, looks at eight countries in South Eastern Europe.
I invite all stakeholders to join ITU’s workstreams dedicated to broadband development and regulation and to learn more from the Regional Regulatory Forum’s draft Outcome Report. I also invite you to engage with us on this topic and keep an eye on related activities for 2021 until we can hopefully meet again in person next September in Budva, Montenegro, as it is tradition for ITU Regulatory Forums for Europe.
[Source: ITU]

Why effective disaster management needs responsible AI

The use of artificial intelligence holds promise in helping avert, mitigate and manage disasters by analyzing swaths of data, but more efforts are required to ensure that technologies are deployed in a responsible, equitable manner.
According to UNDDR, about 1.2 million lives have been lost worldwide and more than 4 billion people affected in disasters that took place between 2000 and 2019.
Faster data labelling
Cameron Birge, Senior Program Manager Humanitarian Partnerships at Microsoft, says their work in using AI for humanitarian missions has been human-centric. "Our approach has been about helping the humans, the humans stay in the loop, do their jobs better, faster and more efficiently," he noted.
One of their projects in India uses roofing as a proxy indicator of households with lower incomes who are likely to be more vulnerable to extreme events like typhoons. Satellite imagery analysis of roofs are used to inform disaster response and resilience-building plans. A simple yet rewarding avenue of using AI has been around data labelling to train AI models to assist disaster management.
One challenge, he noted, has been around "unbiased, good, clean, trusted data". He also encouraged humanitarian organizations to understand their responsibilities when making use of AI models to support decision-making. "You have to ensure you sustain, train and monitor these models," he advised. Microsoft also wants to promote more sharing of data with its 'Open Data' campaign.
Precise decision support
AI is becoming increasingly important to the work of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Supercomputers crunch petabytes of data to forecast weather around the world. The WMO also coordinates a global programme of surface-based and satellite observations. Their models merge data from more than 30 satellite sensors, weather stations and ocean-observing platforms all over the planet, explained Anthony Rea, Director of the Infrastructure Department at WMO.
AI can help interpret resulting data and help with decision support for forecasters who receive an overwhelming amount of data, said Rea. "We can use AI to recognize where there might be a severe event or a risk of it happening, and use that in a decision support mechanism to make the forecaster more efficient and maybe allow them to pick up things that couldn't otherwise be picked up."
Understanding the potential impact of extreme weather events on an individual or a community and assessing their vulnerability requires extra information on the built environment, population, and health.
"We need to understand where AI and machine learning can help and where we are better off taking the approach of a physical model. There are many examples of that case as well. Data curation is really important," he added.
WMO also sets the standards for international weather data exchange, including factors such as identifying the data, formats, and ontologies. While advocating for the availability of data, Rea also highlighted the need to be mindful of privacy and ethical considerations when dealing with personal data. WMO is revising its own data policies ahead of its Congress later this year, committing to free and open exchange of data beyond the meteorological community.
'Not a magic bullet'
Rea believes that AI cannot replace the models built on physical understanding and decades of research into interactions between the atmosphere and oceans. "One of the things we need to guard against in the use of AI is to think of it as a magic bullet," he cautioned.
Instead of vertically integrating a specific dataset and using AI to generate forecasts, Rea sees a lot of promise in bringing together different datasets in a physical model to generate forecast information. "We use machine learning and AI in situations where maybe we don't understand the underlying relationships. There are plenty of places in our area of science and service delivery where that is possible."
Rakesh Bharania, Director of Humanitarian Impact Data at Salesforce.org, also sees the potential of artificial or augmented intelligence in decision support and areas where a lot of contextual knowledge is not required. "If you have a lot of data about a particular problem, then AI is certainly arguably much better than having humans going through that same mountain of data. AI can do very well in answering questions where there is a clear, right answer," he said.
One challenge in the humanitarian field, Bharania noted, is scaling a solution from a proof of concept to something mature, usable, and relevant. He also cautioned that data used for prediction is not objective and can impact results.
"It's going to be a collaboration between the private sector who typically are the technology experts and the humanitarians who have the mission to come together and actually focus on determining what the right applications are, and to do so in an ethical and effective and impactful manner," he said. Networks such as NetHope and Impactcloud are trying to build that space of cross-sectoral collaboration, he added.
Towards 'white box AI’
Yasunori Mochizuki, NEC Fellow at NEC Corporation, recalled how local governments in Japan relied on social networks and crowd-behaviour analyses for real-time decision-making in the aftermath of 2011’s Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami.
Their solution analyzed tweets to extract information and identify areas with heavy damage and need for immediate rescue, and integrated it with information provided by public agencies. "Tweets are challenging for computers to understand as the context is heavily compressed and expression varies from one user to another. It is for this reason that the most advanced class of natural language processing AI in the disaster domain was developed," Mochizuki explained.
Mochizuki sees the need for AI solutions in disaster risk reduction to provide management-oriented support, such as optimizing logistics and recovery tasks. This requires “white box AI” he said, also known as ‘explainable AI’. "While typical deep learning technology doesn't tell us why a certain result was obtained, white box AI gives not only the prediction and recommendation, but also the set of quantitative reasons why AI reached the given conclusion," he said.
Webinar host and moderator Muralee Thummarukudy, Operations Manager, Crisis Management Branch at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), also acknowledged the value of explainable AI. "It will be increasingly important that AI is able to explain the decisions transparently so that those who use or are subject to the outcome of these black box technologies would know why those decisions were taken," he said.
[Source: ITU]
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