Protecting children in the age of AI
NEWS Their rights, privacy, and well-being must be protected in digital environments just as they are in the physical world
- In present times we are now living among history’s very first “AI” generation.
- The children and adolescents of today are born into a world increasingly powered by virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI).
- Thus, AI is not only changing what humans can do, it is shaping our behaviours, our preferences, our perceptions of the world and of ourselves.
SIGNIFICANCE OF AI
- In the field of education, AI can and is being used in fabulous ways to tailor learning materials and pedagogical approaches to the child’s needs, such as-
- intelligent tutoring systems,
- tailored curriculum plans,
- imaginative virtual reality instruction,
- offering rich and engaging interactive learning experiences that can improve educational outcomes.
- Not everyone can tap into the opportunities offered by this transformation.
- According to UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as many as two-thirds of the world’s children do not have access to the Internet at home.
- The educational and performance data on children if not kept confidential and anonymous, it can inadvertently typecast or brand children, harming their future opportunities.
- For e.g. During the pandemic, when the usual tests were cancelled in the United Kingdom, the algorithms that served as a fallback, due to which thousands of students lost out on college admissions and scholarships.
Unsupervised virtual world:
- In the old-fashioned physical world, we evolved norms and standards to protect children. But similar protections and standards are missing in the online world.
- The virtual world is full of unsupervised “vacations” and “playgrounds”.
- While video gaming and chat forums offer an online space for children to socialise with their friends, multiple reports identify such virtual playgrounds as “honeypots” for child predators.
- the AI systems driving many video games and social networks are designed to keep children hooked, both through algorithms and gimmicks like “streaks”, “likes”, infinite scroll, etc.
- an ancillary consequence of this business model is that— the children, from a tender age through adolescence, are becoming digitally addicted.
Hinders children understanding of the world:
- right when children and youth are forming their initial views of the world, they are being sucked into virtual deep space, including the universe of fake news, conspiracy theories, hype, hubris, online bullying, hate speech and the likes.
- All this is thrown at children just when they are starting to try to make sense of who they are and the world they live in; right when it is so important to help them understand and appreciate different perspectives, preferences, beliefs and customs, to build bridges of understanding and empathy and goodwill.
Harvesting, algorithmic bias:
- Today, many AI toys come pre-programmed with their own personality and voice.
- Though, these toys can offer playful and creative opportunities for children, they also listen to and observe our children, soaking up their data, and with no framework to govern its use.
- Some of these AI toys even perform facial recognition of children and toddlers.
- Germany banned Cayla, an Internet-connected doll, because of concerns it could be hacked and used to spy on children. Yet, most countries do not yet have the legal framework in place to ban such toys.
THE TASK AHEAD
- This change in way of life with AI, leads to double imperatives of getting all children on-line and creating child-safe digital spaces.
- Hence, we need to balance the tremendous good AI can do for children, while mitigating inadvertent harm and misuse.
- The next phase of the fourth Industrial Revolution must include an overwhelming push to extend Internet access to all children.
- Governments, the private sector, civil society, parents and children must push hard for this now, before AI further deepens the pre-existing inequalities and creates its own disparities.
To mitigate on-line harms, multi-pronged action plan is required, which includes:
- legal and technological safeguards;
- greater awareness among parents, guardians and children on how AI works behind the scenes;
- tools, like trustworthy certification and rating systems, to enable sound choices on safe AI apps;
- ban on anonymous accounts;
- enforce ethical principles of non-discrimination and fairness embedded in the policy and design of AI systems.
STEPS BEING TAKEN
- In February, in a landmark decision, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have adopted General Comment 25, on implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child and fulfilling all children’s rights in the digital environment.
- This is an important first step on the long road ahead.
- The Government of India has put in place strong policies to protect the rights and well-being of children, including a legislative framework that includes the Right to Education.
- Laws and policies to prevent a range of abuses and violence, such as the National Policy for Children (2013), can be extended for children in a digital space.
- we need safe online spaces for children, without algorithmic manipulation and with restricted profiling and data collection.
- Also, there is a need of online tools (and an online culture) that helps prevent addiction, that promotes attention-building skills, that expands children’s horizons, understanding and appreciation for diverse perspectives, and that builds their social emotional learning capabilities.
- Just as India proactively helped shape the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and gave the world the principle of Ahimsa, it could also galvanise the international community around, ensuring an ethical AI for Generation AI.
View all comments