Créditos Caption: UN Resident Coordinator, Joanna Kazana, moderates the opening session of the UN Big Data Forum on 'Planning for the Future.' Panelists include Director at PwC, Kevin Rajaram; Minister of Planning and Development, Pennelope Beckles; and UTT Principal, Professor Prakash Persad. Photo: © PAHO/WHO/ Phillip Joseph
Publicado en Noviembre 30, 2023

UN Big Data Forum Advocates for Digital Guardrails to Safeguard A.I. Users

Governments have a fundamental responsibility to regulate the use of A.I. to protect the public interest, according to UN Resident Coordinator, Joanna Kazana. She made the statement during the opening of the UN in Trinidad and Tobago's Big Data Forum 2023 on Tuesday, November 21.

The two-day Forum was the marquis event under the UN Joint SDG Fund project to modernise data and statistics in Trinidad and Tobago. This project, which began in 2022, is being undertaken by UN organizations,  PAHO/WHO, ILO, ECLAC and UNEP, with the UN Resident Coordinator's Office chairing the steering committee.

2023 marked the first time the UN's Big Data Forum - now in its third year - had been held in person.

Outlining the tremendous transformational benefits to be gained from problem-solving applications of A.I., Ms. Kazana underscored the many positive uses of harnessing this cutting edge technology. But she cautioned about the "massive governance gap" that has rapidly grown between the pace of private-sector development of A.I. technology and the ability of governments to protect users. 

"New technologies are lacking even basic guardrails," Ms. Kazana said. "It is harder to bring a soft toy than an A.I. chatbot to market today. Because such digital technologies are privately developed, governments are constantly lagging behind in regulating them in the public interest. As a result of decades of underinvestment in State capacities, public institutions in most countries are ill equipped to assess and respond to digital challenges. Very few can compete with private to harness talent and offer incentives to digitally skilled people to work in the public sector."

Caption: Minister of Planning and Development, Pennelope Beckles, cuts the ribbon to officially declare the Big Data Forum open. Looking on are staff from UN agencies who administer the Joint SDG Fund project on data and statistics, and staff of the Ministry of Planning and Development. | Photo: © PAHO/WHO/ Phillip Joseph


She noted that one imperative of robust digital governance is minimizing the inequity that can arise between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' with digital access and user skills. 

The Big Data Forum 2023 featured 9 sessions of keynote addresses and panel discussions, an expo of suppliers and services in the realm of Big Data and A.I., and a youth tournament on prompt engineering - dubbed the Collegiate Battle Bots competition. The Forum created a space for local and regional experts to build on the global discourse happening in the Big Data and A.I. space, developing their unique Caribbean narrative on these emerging technologies.


The Forum links to Outcome 3 in the UN's Multi-Country Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (MSDCF) for the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, which stipulates that by 2026, national governments and regional institutions will use relevant data and information to design & adopt laws and policies to eliminate discrimination, address structural inequalities & ensure the advancement of those at risk of being left furthest behind.

"This is a very ambitious task and we are working hard to support the national partners to achieve this outcome," Ms. Kazana said during her remarks.

Also speaking during the opening of the Forum, Minister of Planning and Development, Pennelope Beckles, said data protection is essential for economic development. 

"Effective data protection laws and regulations advance citizens’ trust in digital tools and electronic systems through the integration of rights and protections against the misuse of their personal data," Minister Beckles said. "When considering this, we must require organisations to use data in fair, transparent, and accountable ways. This is fundamental for government’s drive towards effective data rights and protection for our citizens."

Caption: Students square off in the Collegiate Battle Bots competition, co-hosted by the UN in T&T, Teleios and Huawei. | Photo: © PAHO/WHO/ Phillip Joseph


She added that Government is working to craft well-designed data laws and regulations that are adapted to the national context and are accompanied by effective mechanisms for enforcement.

The Forum attracted participation from nearly 300 participants, who range from Government and the public service to data analysts, private sector managers, tech company proprietors and students. 

One of the highly successful additions to this year's Forum was the Collegiate Battle Bots competition, a partnership between the UN in T&T, Teleios and Huawei. 

Sixty students from 20 schools across Trinidad and Tobago participated in the competition, which allowed them to use natural language to programme A.I.-powered bots to compete in a digital battle arena. 

Caption: Students from Marabella North Secondary receive their second-place prizes - laptops to help power their education - from PAHO/WHO Representative a.i., Dr. Michelle Harris (left) and UN Resident Coordinator, Joanna Kazana (right). | Photo: © PAHO/WHO/ Phillip Joseph


Presentation College, Chaguanas emerged victorious, followed by Marabella North Secondary School in second place and St. Stephens College in third place.

Sessions during the Forum included conversations on A.I. in Citizen Safety and Security, with the keynote address delivered by Professor Renee Cummings, a 2023 VentureBeat AI Innovator Award winner. Professor Cummings is an A.I. data and tech ethicist, and the first Data Activist-in-Residence at the University of Virginia’s (UVA), School of Data Science. She cautioned about the dangers of inherent bias being built into A.I. algorithms and the consequences these biases could have on crime fighting, particularly in the identification of suspects. 

Caption: Professor Renee Cummings delivers her keynote address on Day 2 of the Big Data Forum 2023. | Photo: © PAHO/WHO/ Phillip Joseph


For more information on this year's Big Data Forum, check out

Originally published on United Nations Trinidad and Tobago



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