National AI strategies and children

Policy brief | Reviewing the landscape and identifying windows of opportunity

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As progress in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) accelerates, policymakers around the world are realizing the value of proactively engaging in AI debates and are motivated to cultivate national expertise to lead the development and use of AI. Much of this energy has been directed at establishing national task forces and publishing reports on the implications of AI. In 2017, Canada published the first national AI strategy and since then, over 25 national AI strategies have been published to address areas including digital infrastructure, regulation, research and education, the future of work, data management, security and ethics. To date, approximately 35 additional country strategies are in various stages of development.  

Given the profound impact AI will have on life and work in the 21st century, the stakeholders who will be most affected by these developments are children. It is estimated that “in 104 countries, more than 80 per cent of the youth population are online” and according to the ITU, those “with the most data and the most robust digital infrastructure will be the first to reap the benefits of [AI] technologies”. As children witness the proliferation of AI enabled systems and devices, they will need to gain the necessary skills to prepare for this reality. Today, children are acquiring social norms, building personal identities and pursuing educational opportunities, under the influence of AI systems.

The purpose of this brief is to bring immediate attention to the lack of meaningful or directional recommendations regarding children’s issues in most national AI strategies that exist today. The analysis has been conducted through a literature review of national AI strategies. It is important to note that due to the disparities in the length (word count) and maturity of strategies, this brief does not attempt to compare countries to one another, but rather to advocate for the prioritization of children’s rights and needs in AI policies. Given the dramatic ramifications AI is having on children, both now and into the future, policymakers should not overlook its implications for this unique and fast-growing demographic. For an AI strategy to robustly engage with children’s issues, policymakers must ensure that children are not just shielded from the harms of AI, but that they are meaningfully enriched, informed and aided by it.

September 2020

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