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Protecting Children in the age of Artificial Intelligence

Protecting Children in the age of Artificial Intelligence


  • GS 3 || Science & Technology || Fourth Industrial Revolution || Artificial Intelligence

Why in the news?

Today’s children and teenagers are born into a world that is profoundly dominated by virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI)

Present context:

  • World is now living in the first “AI” generation in history. Children and adolescents today are born into a world increasingly dominated by virtual reality and artificial intelligence, from the Alexas they converse with to their robot playmates to the YouTube wormholes they vanish into (AI).
  • AI is transforming not only what humans can do, but it is also influencing our attitudes, desires, and behaviors.

Opportunities for Children in the AI Age:

  • Providing education during a global pandemic: AI can and is being used in fantastic ways in the field of education to tailor learning materials and pedagogical methods to the needs of children, such as intelligent tutoring programs, personalized curriculum plans, and imaginative virtual reality teaching. It provides rich and engaging interactive learning opportunities that can help students achieve better educational outcomes.
  • Cognitive Support: Artificial intelligence (AI) technology will augment our natural intelligence and skills, enabling us to access knowledge more quickly and be more successful in our various personal and professional roles.
  • Enabling accessibility: It drives virtual assistants, robotic devices, smart apps, and other technologies that enable people with disabilities to access information..
  • Adaptable AI’s Power: The better the AI is at adapting to a person’s needs, meaning, desires, and goals, the better it is. Adaptable AI has far-reaching consequences, opening doors to possibilities ranging from:
    • Personalized learning tools: It has the potential to increase access to education and enhance educational outcomes for both children and adults.
    • Facilitating more advanced and productive supply-demand matching: It helps to increase access to job opportunities, resource sharing, long-term jobs, and other ways of networking that help us minimize waste and optimize opportunity.
  • Big Data Insights: It can only benefit from the vast volumes of data that are now accessible if we can distill them into practical insights. AI has unlocked new ways not just of collecting data but also of analyzing it in order to better understand trends, assess people’s needs, and provide better personalized services in almost every industry, and it has helped us do so with unparalleled efficiency and scale.

Challenges for children in the age of Artificial Intelligence:

  • Empowerment of machines to make critical decisions: There is a significant risk that unchecked use of AI/ Machine learning to decide who gets access to what programs will perpetuate historic bias and discourage children from getting a fair chance in life. If left unchecked and unsupervised, AI technology used to sort through student applications can inadvertently but systematically exclude certain types of candidates
  • Privacy, Safety, and Security: The consequences of AI for children’s privacy, safety, and security span a broad range of benefits and dangers, ranging from the ability to understand threats to unintentional privacy infringements.
  • Children are being technologically addicted: It doesn’t help that many video games and social media platforms use AI programs that are built to keep kids hooked. The business model of such media has harmed children from a young age through puberty, causing them to become technologically addicted.
  • Everyone will benefit from AI: According to UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), up to two-thirds of the world’s children do not have access to the Internet at home. Last year, the suicide of a young Delhi University undergrad whose parents couldn’t afford a laptop or smartphone at home tragically highlighted the gap between the digital haves and have-nots in India.
  • Cognitive/Psychological Consequences: The emerging ways that children and teenagers engage with technology have ramifications for our physiology and psychology.
  • Livelihood and Dignity/Automation: Experts expect that by 2025, robots would have replaced humans in one-third of today’s employment. Nearly 65% of today’s elementary school students will serve in positions that don’t exist tomorrow.

Right to freedom of attention:

  • It doesn’t help that many video games and social networks’ AI systems are built to hold kids addicted, using algorithms and gimmicks like “streaks,” “likes,” endless scroll, and so on. Even if this is an unintended effect of the underlying business model, the harm has been done: children of all ages, from infancy to adolescence, have become digitally addicted.
  • Similarly, children and youth are being sucked into virtual deep space, which includes the environment of false news, conspiracy theories, hype, hubris, online bullying, hate speech, and the like, just as they are developing their initial views of the world. AI is sorting them into tribes with every click and scroll, and feeding them a steady diet of specially customised tribal cuisine.

Rights and protections:

  • So, how can we strike a balance between the enormous good AI can do for kids and keeping their unique vulnerabilities at the forefront of our concerns, preventing inadvertent harm and misuse?
  • The fourth Industrial Revolution’s next step must involve a concerted effort to provide Internet access to all children. Governments, the private sector, civil society, parents, and children must all work together to do this now, before AI exacerbates current inequalities and creates new ones.
  • We need secure online environments for kids, with limited profiling and data collection and no algorithmic abuse. We also need online resources (and an online culture) that aid in the prevention of addiction, foster attention-building skills, broaden children’s horizons, awareness and appreciation of different viewpoints, and enhance their social emotional learning abilities.

Key first step:

  • Incorporate child rights into AI values and policies before they are implemented: The AI Principles, which are intended to be “human-centered,” are a good place to start when thinking about AI governance from a child’s perspective. Since policies are enforced by many players in an AI ecosystem, children’s rights should be considered in the AI value chain.
  • Bridging the digital divide: The fourth Industrial Revolution’s next step must involve a concerted effort to provide Internet access to all children. Governments, the private sector, civil society, parents, and children must all work together to do this now, before AI exacerbates current inequalities and creates new ones.
  • AI ecosystem capacity building: Children, parents/caregivers, and teachers all need a clear understanding of AI systems and how they affect people. The development of training materials, ensuring successful implementation, providing ongoing support, and providing sufficient funding for capacity building should all be prioritized.
  • Multi-pronged action plans for reducing online harms: It is critical to provide legal and technical protections that will increase parental, guardian, and child understanding about how AI functions behind the scenes. It is important to have resources, such as reputable certification and rating systems, in order to make informed decisions about secure AI apps. It is essential to prohibit anonymous accounts and to embed ethical values of non-discrimination and fairness in AI policy and design.

Way Forward:

  • In the era of artificial intelligence, it is critical to help children understand and respect diverse viewpoints, preferences, opinions, and customs in order to create bridges of understanding, empathy, and goodwill.
  • It is critical to provide online resources (and an online culture) that aid in the prevention of addiction, foster attention-building skills, and broaden the horizons of children, understanding and appreciation for diverse perspectives, and that builds their social emotional learning capabilities.
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child encourages both public and private actors to act in the child’s best interests in all of their developmental activities and service provision.
  • The UNICEF Generation AI project is currently collaborating with the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and other partners to realize the potential of artificial intelligence for children in a secure and open manner.
  • In this interconnected world, the more we can negotiate upon multilaterally and through multi-stakeholder groups, the easier it will be to incorporate nationally and locally.
  • India could galvanize the international community around ensuring an ethical AI for Generation AI, just as it helped form the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and brought the world the concept of Ahimsa.

Mains oriented question:

How do we encourage and support the tremendous good AI can do for children’s growth and development, while simultaneously mitigating the harm? And how do we equip children and young people with the knowledge, tools and awareness to protect themselves?