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UNDP showcases technology to propel good governance

  • Humanoid robot delivers keynote address
- Rahul Dhakal, Kathmandu

Mar 22, 2018-

A United Nations conference held here on Wednesday highlighted how new technology and innovation could propel better governance and help achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In a first for Nepal, a humanoid robot named Sophia delivered the keynote address of the Conference on Technology for Public Services, organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) at Hotel Yak and Yeti, Durbarmarg.

The conference was part of an effort to facilitate discussion on how technology and innovation could contribute to better governance and towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (STGs) delegated to member states, organisers said.

The event comprised a seminar and an innovation fair.

There was much fanfare ahead of the seminar because a humanoid robot was to deliver the keynote address.

The UNDP’s first non-human innovation champion and celebrity robot, Sophia, briefly spoke about the advantages yielded by new technology in terms of research and governance. She concluded the address by reassuring audiences they had nothing to fear from a general AI (Artificial Intelligence), such as herself.

The seminar saw presentations by Lal Bahadur Khatri on the application of e-governance models in transforming tax collection; Mahabir Pun on the use of drones to provide basic healthcare to those living in remote mountainous regions; Dr Manish Pokharel on the uses of e-education; Ramraj Narsimha on the innovation of earthquake warning systems, e-building permit systems and iData; Nagesh Badu on the application of e-governance tools in local governments; Shyam Kumar Bhattarai on the introduction of an automated case handling system for legal affairs, while Shekhar Golchha presented on the benefits of assuming  a One Stop Shop model for government offices. 

The Innovation Fair, which opened after the presentations, constituted information kiosks where attendees got a chance to see some of the technologies mentioned by the presenters.

The tech-expo targeted government officials, entrepreneurs, and “development actors” whose patronage could, arguably, galvanise prospects for the as of yet, fledgling technologies.

The fair included Karkhana’s BeeCreative co-curricular programme that promotes interactive learning; the South Korean start up, Angelswing’s drone mapping initiative for greater data collection and clearer depictions of remote terrains; Nepal Innovation Center’s model for a medical supply drone; and ICT for Agriculture’s Krishi Guru which was rightly touted as a comprehensive farming app as the platform connects farmers to extension agencies, input suppliers, agro-experts, and market traders.

Sophia’s appearance here, just like her Saudi Citizenship, was entirely a public relations stunt. Saudi Arabia had granted the robot full citizenship as a gimmick to promote a tech summit that was part of a notional policy to transform its oil-based economy into something more tech driven.

Despite the hype, critics argue that allowing an AI to be a legal person sets a dangerous precedent, as Sophia is essentially a citizen that can be turned off and can be freely bought and sold.  Her citizenship is comparable to the notion of corporate personhood, which gives companies some of the legal rights and responsibilities of people. Thus, giving AI anything close to human rights would allow firms to defer both legal and tax liability to robots. Calling her “alive” would be utterly misleading however, Sophia is not unintelligent, either.

She mimics sentience using face tracking thus being able to recognise emotions, and her robotic movements are generated through the use of artificial neural networks. Though noted for her sense of humour, most of Sophia’s dialogues come from a simple decision tree, the same tech used by chat bots where when you say X, it replies Y. As such, Sofia is an impressive technological feat, even a work of art, but not quite “alive”.

Published: 22-03-2018 07:42

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