UNRCPD provides Responsible Innovation Workshop for machine learning and robotics engineers and developers during the Yantra 8.0 Science, Tech and Entrepreneurship Festival

February 7th, 2020

Kathmandu, 4 February (UNRCPD): In collaboration with the Robotics Association of Nepal the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) carried out a Responsible Innovation workshop for young developers and engineers during the Yantra 8.0 Science, Tech and Entrepreneurship Festival. Featured as part of the “Yantra Learning” activities, supporting machine learning and regional robotics competitors, Responsible Innovation is a key element of “Securing Our Common Future”, the Secretary-General’s 2018 Agenda for Disarmament, and a key part of UNODA and UNRCPD’s ongoing work.

Building an artificial intelligence community around responsible innovation

The Yantra 8.0 festival brings together programmers, engineers, designers, tinkerers and tech enthusiasts from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia and Nepal focused on designing and developing algorithms to make machines learn on their own, as well as improve robotic design to enable optimal performance for specific functions, like sensors to recognise the environment, motors for actuation and systems for intelligent control. Under the Robotics Association of Nepal’s “Robotics and AI for SDGs” theme, UNRCPD and ODA are supporting the hopes of the organization to build an Artificial Intelligence community ecosystem in Nepal which understands responsible innovation.

Yantra 8.0 Science and Tech Entrepreneurship Festival

Encouraging critical thinking about the repercussions of new technologies

During the workshop, UNRCPD presented and carried out two educational scenario-based exercises with 36 young entrepreneurs focusing on issues related to computer vision and robotics. Participants reflected on the diversity of applications for each technology and their possible repercussions for individual, national and international security, and disarmament issues in particular. Moniral Islam, an International Robotics Competitor from Bangladesh noted, “for us, the workshop was a surprise. We came here to participate in a Robot fight, we were working on a Robust Robot but this session put us in the frame that we should be working on a Robust ‘Responsible’ Robot.”

Roundtable discussions included prioritization exercises where negotiating took centre stage. Engineers passionately practiced advocacy and debated priority considerations. Participants expressed how important the workshop was to them, as they had never discussed or considered these issues in relation to their work. Sabin Shrestha a Robobusiness Cup participant from Nepal said, “the workshop was mind-boggling, we have never thought this way, it has always been about developing technologies and solving problems but never from a responsible side. We would love to organize the same session at our College of Engineering.”

Engineers discuss the prioritization of the issues raised by the scenarios of the activity.

Participants agreed that it is critical to include young innovators in discussions and decision-making on responsible innovation. Swastika K.C concluded, “we technocrats often do not look from other side. Our world can be made better if we act responsibly. We need to understand possible implications of technology in order to make a better and secure society”.

Engaging the next generation of industry leaders

UNRCPD’s scenario-based exercises have been developed as an outreach activity for tertiary science, technology, engineer and mathematics (STEM) students to encourage critical thinking on the potentially harmful repercussions of new technologies, on the variety of stakeholders involved in their research, development, commercialization and regulation, as well as on the responsibilities of individuals and organizations involved in these processes. UNRCPD conducted this activity as part of its Responsible Innovation for a Secure Environment in Asia and the Pacific (RISE-AP) project which seeks to build critical thinking and Responsible Innovation capacities, emphasizing the importance of responsible innovation to foster development while simultaneously mitigating security and arms risks, and ensuring the peaceful applications of science and technology.

Engineers advocate for responsible considerations when looking at potential security and disarmament issues related to robotics.

Through engaging the next generation of industry leaders, engineers and scientists and providing them with the tools and frameworks necessary to be responsible innovators, they will bring fresh perspectives to these complex issues while simultaneously creating and supporting a culture of responsible behaviour, accountability and adherence to norms, rules and principles for responsible innovation.

For further information on UNRCPD’s Responsible Innovation activities please contact Ms. Jane E. Lawson, Peace and Disarmament Education Coordinator for Asia and Pacific at jane.lawson@un.org and Mr. Charles Ovink, Associate Political Affairs Officer at charles.ovink@un.org.