Freetown, Sierra Leone: Kumba Musa is a data scientist and machine learning expert at DSTI, where she teaches policymakers and academics how to use artificial intelligence (AI) tools to clean, analyze, and visualize data. Ms. Musa joined 50 artificial intelligence experts from different countries who gathered at UNICEF in New York City to take steps towards developing policy guidance for AI and child rights.

While artificial intelligence (AI) in Sierra Leone is being used to inform education policy at the highest national level, there is still little awareness amongst the public about the benefits or dangers for children living in a world that is driven by AI.

Musa says that the ongoing collaboration between DSTI and UNICEF means that lessons from Sierra Leone will help to shape global policy around child rights and AI by addressing questions such as what happens when decisions are made using datasets that may be gender-biased. Or how do we use algorithms that we understand and can tweak to promote desired outcomes for children?

These important guidelines are being developed at a time when Sierra Leone and the world are marking the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on November 20, 2019. AI systems are expected to transform life in the 21st century, and the global community has a responsibility to set guidelines that will protect and enhance children’s rights for the next 30 years.

As UNICEF and the Government of Sierra Leone explore the many compelling reasons to use AI for children’s development (such as education, health, and social welfare), there are concerns about unchecked technology use, from the internet to artificial intelligence and beyond. When policies and guidelines are not in place for safer internet use, new threats and harm are introduced to the lives of children, including cyberbullying, trolling, and illegal movements of children. Sierra Leone is taking these issues head-on even as the government embraces technology and innovation.

“Participating in the AI Child’s Rights Workshop was meaningful to me because it taught me about the design decisions that I should take to ensure that my technologies do not infringe on the rights of children,” said Kumba Musa, Data Scientist, Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation.

“Had it not been for the continued support of UNICEF Sierra Leone to DSTI, we would have missed out on this monumental opportunity to learn and share best practices around the protection of children and artificial intelligence.”

The AI Child Rights workshop accomplished the following:

Built a consensus among stakeholders about the objectives of the initiative and key principles of the guidance.

Brainstormed how to move from policy to practice and what support tools are needed for different audiences—government, industry, and the UN—to implement the guidelines.

Generated ideas on multi-stakeholder policy engagement strategies for government, industry, and the UN to implement the guidelines.

Built a network of AI and child rights changemakers committed to supporting the cause.

UNICEF, in partnership with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Association and in collaboration with the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet & Society, the World Economic Forum, and other organizations, will collaboratively develop guidelines to help governments, corporations, and UN agencies protect and empower children in the age of AI.

“To have informed policy development around AI and child rights at a global level allows us to continue to ensure the rights of the child are protected and considered for the next 30 years,” said Shane O’Connor, Technology for Development Specialist, UNICEF.

UNICEF and the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) will continue to collaborate through knowledge exchange and learning to strengthen the ecosystem around science, technology, and innovation for Sierra Leone’s national development.

“The partnership between DSTI and UNICEF is enabling great strides to be taken in the use of technology and innovation to support our work for the children of Sierra Leone.”