Finland helps to safeguard child rights in the digital world

Finland helps to safeguard child rights in the digital world

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, and Finland are collaborating to create international policy guidance for the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) that affects children.

The new guidance will help governments, municipalities and companies to make sure that the AI solutions used by them will work for the best interest of the child.

In global terms, a third of internet users are children aged under 18. AI plays a big role in children's lives: it is an integral part of interactive toys, video games and various mobile phone solutions, for example.

The rapid development AI involves huge potential in such areas affecting children as learning, health and security.  Other relevant questions are related to violations of privacy, inequality when it comes to digital skills, and the impact of the accumulated data for the future of the child. While it is difficult for adults to understand the traces they leave in the virtual world, for children it is particularly difficult — and they should not have the responsibility for such matters.

”What often happens as a result of rapid technological development is that it is challenging to keep up with the change and to ensure that AI serves us in a human-centric manner,” says Ambassador for Innovations Jarmo Sareva.

“People have the right to childhood as a special stage in life. If AI offers solutions that weaken the preconditions for human agency by commercialising childhood, we are not going in the right direction. Children are also more vulnerable than adults, which is why this sort of guidance is needed.”

The international policy guidance that is now being prepared is the first of its kind. It aims to help both governments, municipalities, companies and others using and developing AI to take the needs and rights of children into account. In the course of the process, children and youth have been consulted extensively.

Finns take part in testing

Finland’s expertise and experience in the area make it a natural partner for UNICEF.  Finland is among the first countries to have published their own national artificial intelligence strategy and it has supported UNICEF’s Office of Innovation and its Innovation Fund.

Finnish users are taking part in the development and testing of the AI guidance. Their experiences will be helpful when the draft policy guidance will be finalised.

“Stakeholders were selected from among actors with diverse backgrounds and operating environments from around the world. For example, the Helsinki University Hospital (HUS) is already using virtual applications that are suitable for piloting the guidance,” Sareva says.

The Psychiatry Department of the Helsinki University Hospital has developed two chatbots, Milli and Chillaa. Milli helps children to assess the severity of their symptoms and guides them to suitable services. Another chatbot is Chillaa, which offers exercises, tips and peer guidance for dealing with stress and social anxiety.

The Eksote joint municipal authority for health and social services in South Karelia and Fujitsu Finland are also among the piloting organisations. They have developed an AI solution, called Nuora, which helps to identify and prevent the risk social exclusion among young people. SomeBuddy (formerly Someturva) has created an online application for victims of cyberbullying and online harassment.

The guidance is being tested not only in Finland but also, among others, in Sweden, the UK, Japan, Malta, Chile, the United States, Rwanda, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Based on the user experiences, the guidance will be finalised and published at an international conference to be held in Helsinki at the end of 2021.