PHOTO BY: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Belgrade, Serbia – An international workshop recently here brought together various stakeholders including public sector organizations, civil society organizations, media industry and academia. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Media of Serbia, the workshop/training on “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications for Media and Information Literacy (MIL) and Freedom of Expression (FoE)”, was held on January 22-24 earlier this year.

Deciding to focus on the IT sector as one of the most significant pillars of economic growth and smart living, the Government of the Republic of Serbia organized the workshop as an opportunity for media actors to delve more deeply into the challenging digital framework, and study its impact on our ability to participate responsibly in the media environment.

Freedom of expression as basic precondition of any democracy has been increasingly put under test nowadays by emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI). Governments worldwide are catalyzing efforts to respond to the AI challenges in the media ecosystem such as determining content and access to information by content personalization and customization, monitoring and targeting.

While content creation and moderation tools, facial and speech recognition, smart search systems, editorial curating assistants, can make media professionals’ daily routine easier, they can nevertheless raise various issues of human rights including, freedom of expression.

With this backdrop, on the regulatory level, dialogue through international organizations such as the UN, the UNESCO, the OSCE and the Council of Europe (CoE) is stepping up in order to find common denominator for dramatic changes that AI has brought to the media environment.

The Government of the Republic of Serbia focuses on the IT sector as one of the most significant pillars of economic growth and smart living. Its commitment to regulating AI has been demonstrated recently by the adoption of AI strategy on the national level. In addition, the Ministry of Culture and Media, in cooperation with international organizations, continuously monitors the directions of information and media development, and at the same time recognizes the importance of strengthening the capacities of all actors in the field of media and information in order to keep up with international trends and take timely actions.

Already while doing a search on the internet, algorithms affect search results, and personalizing content using artificial intelligence greatly affects a person’s right to be informed, which often weakens the pluralism of ideas that one can be exposed to. It is necessary for us to better understand this area, and in particular its impact on freedom of expression.

Prior to arranging this workshop, a needs assessment exercise was performed and targeted program created by a panel of seven reputed experts, led by Professor I. Kushchu, the CEO of TheNextMinds.

The workshop contained practical and theoretical insights on fundamentals of AI, Machine Learning and participants also acquired skills in understanding the interactions of AI and human rights, in general, and freedom of expression in particular. They have also been developing skills to deal with issues related to regulation of emerging technologies. The workshop helped participants identify how AI tools and techniques may influence media and information landscape for now and in the future, and how they can get prepared for it for better MIL education.

More specifically the following topics were covered:

• A Nontechnical coverage of AI Foundations, Machine Learning together with data science, IoT, the Cloud and automation.
• Common AI practices influencing Education, Human Rights, and Ethics
*Human Centric AI
*Content generation and content dissemination
*Content monitoring, evaluating and manipulations
*Recommender systems
*Personalization and customization
• How AI and the emerging technologies are influencing the MIL, HR, FoE and Ethics.
*Evidences from MIL: How AI Boost to MIL will Practically Empower Citizen and How AI Can Support MIL
*Evidences from Ethics of developing and using responsible AI systems
*Evidences from HR and FoE: AI Disruption and Human Rights, and Freedom of Expression,
*Approaches to AI Regulation- Comparison of USA, China, EU countries, and others, FoE protection in artificial intelligence environment- legislative, regulatory and policy responses

Impact:

This capacity building exercise could set an inspiring example for other public sector organizations in Serbia but also internationally thus triggering more AI related activities in other parts of the government. This can also incite confidence in the public sector in working with technology and AI experts in explaining needs and requirements and evaluating suggested solutions. This could lead to better combining activities and implementations relevant to AI and making more skillful and informed decisions.

The Next Steps

The experience of this significant workshop may lead to various important initiatives to promote and monitor development of AI in Serbia in such a way that AI is human centric and helps empower the members of the society through sensitivity to MIL, Ethics and FoE. Moreover, AI technologies follow and fit EU recommendations especially in terms of societal needs and regulations.

In order to perform such initiatives, the Ministry hinted that it would take a lead role in partnering various relevant organizations and build upon knowledge and experiences of some of the participants who took part in this workshop.

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