UNICEF Innovate: 2018 Davos Roundup

Key takeaways from Davos 2018 "Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World"

Erica Kochi, UNICEF Innovation Futures Lead & WEF Global Future Council on Human Rights chair
Panel: Generation AI
UNICEF Innovation
20 February 2018

23-26 January , 2018 – UNICEF Innovation Futures Lead & WEF Global Future Council on Human Rights chair – Erica Kochi joins world leaders, industry experts, and changemakers at Davos 2018’s “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” to discuss the opportunities and implications of  emerging technologies — and the responsibility we all hold in shaping the future.

Erica shares her impressions over this 3-day event below.


Artificial Intelligence – the promise and perils

Last year, the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution were highlighted but largely confined to a separate building called The Loft. This year, at any given time, at least a quarter of the rooms in the Congress Center (the building with the highest profile World Economic Forum events) hosted panels and discussions about these new technologies – especially the promise and perils of artificial intelligence (AI) – the science of making machines more intelligent.

The promise – how AI and specifically machine learning (ML) can be harnessed to improve efficiencies and better allocate resources – from understanding where diseases spread, mapping schools, crops and yields, to outsmarting cancer, and greatly reducing our energy usage.

The perils – how AI could:

Four of my six speaking engagements revolved around the use of technology that will largely be driven by AI:

  • Generation AI – panel with Kai-Fu Lee (CEO Sinovation Ventures), Wanuri Kahui (CEO Afro Bubble Gum), Ronald Dahl (Adolescent Behavioral Specialist UC Berkeley), Carlos Pereira (CEO Livox) and myself on what does it mean for young people to grow up with AI? What are the opportunities, what are the threats, how do we regulate it?
  • Role of Technology for Crisis Response and Rebuilding – facebook panel moderated by Sheryl Sandberg with – Vittorio Colao (CEO Vodafone), Lauren Woodman (CEO of NetHope), and myself on how we can use technology including data from social networks and mobile network operators to better understand what’s happening on the ground and allocated our resources more effectively.
  • Drones for All – Yvonne Wassenaar (CEO of Airware) and myself on how we can ensure that the benefits of drones are extended to all.
  • Preparing Civil Society for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – a panel and discussion with Zia Khan (VP Rockefeller Foundation), Brett Solomon (CEO AccessNow), and myself on how civil society can adapt to the changes underway.
‘The Role of Technology for Crisis Response’
UNICEF Innovation
‘The Role of Technology for Crisis Response’

“We need to continue and expand investments in AI applications to improve the work we do at UNICEF.  We also need to be looking  towards the future — developing and shaping guidance and policy recommendations on children and AI now.”

Education is dead, long live learning?

There was a definite call to expand the notion of education beyond the classroom into learning skills needed for children to become productive members of society.

Many pointed toward the involvement of business as crucial to these efforts – as a pipeline and pull towards employment, as well as a partner in providing accreditation and defining the skills that young people will need for the future.

In UNICEF Innovation, we believe that business, especially the technology sector can play a crucial role in providing skills and pathways to employment. In some recent market research, we looked at the nexus of where there is a clear need, where there is an attractive market, and where technology actors have a clear value-add. Three of the areas we are looking at fall squarely in the skills and pathways to employment space.

Clearly, the problem with a business takes all approach here is that without strong public institutions in this space, the main metric for success is not equity or even performance, but money.

‘The Learning Revolution: It’s not about Classrooms’
UNICEF Innovation
‘The Learning Revolution: It’s not about Classrooms’

“We need a culture shift internally about what education means and what children need in their lives to live happy and productive lives. We need to continue to try things out in this space (we’ll be left too far behind if we try to plan it all and have a definitive answer). We need to get smart about partnering with the private sector. We should expand our definition of learning beyond the classroom."

Blockchain: A New Operating System for Society?

Clearly, there is a lot of interest – given the marked increase in value of cryptocurrencies over the past year. In the international development space, there is also tremendous interest – from using blockchain for identity, land titles, and generally the provision of all social services. We’re still in the early days of blockchain and most of the proposed applications are still a technology looking for a problem. Blockchain is used to continuously grow a list of records which are linked and secured using cryptography. Most use cases revolve around the need to exchange value between two parties without the need for a trusted authority.

One of the major concerns around the expanded use of blockchain is the energy usage it requires. Currently, Bitcoin (the largest cryptocurrency) uses about as much electricity annually as all of Nigeria.

Blockchain Panel
UNICEF Innovation

“We should be involved, but we also need to ask some hard questions about how, where, and why we use blockchain.”