In Southeast Asia, data-science trailblazers train to innovate for the global good

December 7th, 2020

Student finalists in a Southeast Asian data analytics competition trained last month to maximize the positive impact of their future work and reduce risks of accidental harm.

The ethical and disarmament implications of new technologies and innovations were at the centre of a remote interactive workshop convened by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foundation and with SAP, a software development company. The event on 19 November 2020 brought together more than 20 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students who were regional and national finalists in this year’s ASEAN Data Science Explorers competition.

UNODA conducts a remote, interactive workshop exploring responsible innovation with young innovators at the regional finals for the ASEAN Data Science Explorers.

After an introductory discussion on the concepts of “responsible innovation” and “horizon scanning”, as well as the possible disarmament and non-proliferation implications of these technologies, the young innovators broke into smaller groups to review hypothetical scenarios involving considerations such as criminal use, misinformation, algorithmic bias and copyright violations, as well as tasking autonomous systems and attributing responsibility for their errors.

The workshop’s scenarios and interactive elements encouraged students to think for themselves about the potentially harmful or beneficial repercussions of new technologies, the stakeholders involved in developing such innovations, and the related responsibilities of individuals and organizations. The participants also considered the potential national, regional and international impacts of new technologies, including who could address such concerns and how.

To conclude the session, the young innovators reflected on how to prioritize the various security and social challenges of new technologies, what future developments may prompt them to rethink their choices, and the reasons that each group selected different areas of greatest concern. In a final discussion, participants shared their key takeaways and expressed interest in exploring the topic further.

Participants discussed how to prioritize the different challenges presented by new technologies, how their choices may change in the future and the variation among their choices.

The remote workshop was part of a project called “Responsible Innovation for a Secure Environment in Asia and the Pacific” (RISE-AP), organized by UNODA and its Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD). The initiative aims to engage with young innovators to discuss the potential impact of emerging technologies on global peace and security. By equipping the next generation of industry leaders, engineers and scientists with the tools and frameworks necessary to innovate responsibly, RISE-AP has brought fresh perspectives to complex issues while simultaneously creating and supporting a culture of responsible behaviour, accountability and adherence to norms, rules and principles for responsible innovation.

The ASEAN Data Science Explorers competition is intended to provide digital literacy training to tertiary students experienced in data analytics, while also encouraging youth from ASEAN States to harness data to deliver sound recommendations for addressing regional issues. The annual event comprises national-level competitions between teams representing each of the 10 ASEAN member States: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. The winner of this year’s regional competition was Team Catfish from Viet Nam.

For further information on UNODA’s responsible innovation activities, please contact Mr. Charles Ovink, Associate Political Affairs Officer at