Since 1990, Schloss Dagstuhl has hosted computer scientists at so called Dagstuhl Seminars. In a rare move, this week the center opened its doors to representatives of a completely different sector to collaborate with machine learning experts – staff from development and human rights organizations such as Oxfam, the International Commission of Jurists, RNW Media, Barefoot Law, SEMA, Justice & Peace, and Shaqodoon have come to challenge the computer scientists: what can you do to help poor farmers in Zimbabwe adapt to climate change? How can machine learning improve access to justice in Uganda? Is there a better way of dealing with toxic behavior in online debates?
The Dagstuhl Seminar at the Leibniz Center for Informatics has 24 people from 9 countries on 3 continents convene for a week to collaborate. The first two days, discussions focused on what the NGOs’ most pressing problems are, and on what techniques of artificial intelligence are available. On day three and four, the computer scientists and the not-for-profit organizations do a hackathon to build prototypes for AI applications. The Dagstuhl Seminar is organized by: Claudia Clopath (Imperial College London, GB), Ruben De Winne (Oxfam Novib – The Hague, NL), Mohammad Emtiyaz Khan (RIKEN – Tokyo, JP), Tom Schaul (Google DeepMind – London, GB)
Statements of the Participants
“It is fascinating to finally work on real-world problems”, says Julia Proskurnia, a machine learning researcher at Google. “As researchers, we tend to look at problems from a very technical angle. Here at Dagstuhl we can have meaningful interactions with NGOs. We learn that our machine learning techniques can actually have a positive impact on the lives of people in poor countries.”
Mustafa Othman from Shaqodoon in Somalia is equally enthusiast: “This seminar has definitely empowered me. I now see better how to put my data in a form that is useful for a developer. With any project, I will keep in mind how to collect data in a useful way.”
Gerald Abila from Barefoot Law in Uganda says that computer scientists were also made aware of particular challenges for NGOs: “During the seminar, we discussed with the computer scientists how we can ensure that their tools are designed so that they include vulnerable people and eliminate biases. Big data is the key towards understanding how to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and AI provides us with the means towards making sense of this big data. Artificial intelligence definitely has the potential to increase our impact."
During the whole year, Schloss Dagstuhl invites scientists from all over the world to come to northern Saarland in the south west of Germany to debate the newest scientific findings in informatics. More than 3,500 computer scientists from universities, research institutions and industry take part in various scientific events at Dagstuhl each year. Since 2005, Schloss Dagstuhl is a member of the Leibniz Association,.