AI needs to be used as a power for people with disabilities, says Victor Santiago Pineda, founder of World Enabled. Image: Unsplash/Jakub Pabis
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- AI needs to be used as a power for people with disabilities, says Victor Santiago Pineda, founder of World Enabled.
- This means care needs to be taken to ensure the voices of marginalized people are properly heard and represented in technologies.
- The World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society aims to help close the disability inclusion gap with the support of business leadership.
“I grew up in a world that was not designed for me,” says Victor Santiago Pineda, founder of World Enabled.
Pineda, who uses a wheelchair and a machine to help him breathe, found as he grew up that “the world was full of barriers”. As an adult, he believes that AI can provide new solutions and ways of access to people with disabilities in a way that breaks down barriers. But only if it is correctly conceived.
“How do we ensure that AI is not leaving people behind, but rather is a power for people – regardless if they have difficulty walking or seeing or hearing or remembering? Looking at a use case of a user that might have functional limitations creates better innovations and better products for everyone,” he says.
The most to gain – and the most to lose
People with disabilities have the most to gain from technology, but they also have the most to lose, argues Pineda. In order for the power of AI and other digital technologies to be unlocked, those developing them need to create interfaces that allow a variety of users to be able to interact with them. And they need to come up with ways to ensure equity, based on affordability and access.
“[Without this] those communities that are already left out will face a massive and exponential risk of becoming more and more marginalized,” says Pineda.
Elevating marginalized voices
As algorithms and associated AI are developed, it is important that attention is given to creating responsive and representative models. But we also need to be aware of the fact that many datasets effectively drown out marginalized voices by ‘averaging’ out inputs – more mainstream concepts dominate over the fewer marginalized ones.
“With the right approaches, regulations and the right set of values, you can actually create models that attempt to elevate those voices. Even though they're not as present, they're becoming more valued or weighted in these models,” says Pineda.
“If we are conscious about the biases, if we are proactive about weighing the data in a way that elevates the representation of these groups, we can create outcomes that more adequately reflect our society.”
Nothing about us without us
As we continue to develop AI and technology, we need to create a common set of values underpinned in a governance model that guarantees fairness, transparency and representation of various points of view, among other things, Pineda argues.
In doing this, we need to ensure that the perspective of those with disabilities is heard, promoting their participation in development and decision-making.
“The idea here is that governance can't just be about consensus. It can't just be about the one idea that beats all the other ideas. We need to move towards targeted universalism – a universal goal with a targeted approach for various communities to get to that goal.”
A new frontier for disability rights
The World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society aims to help close the disability inclusion gap with the support of business leadership. It drives business action, shares learnings and serves as an accelerator for the Valuable 500, a global network of CEOs committed to disability inclusion.
What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?
Pineda considers AI to be a new frontier for disability rights.
“I remember seeing the deployment [of AI] and thinking I've just witnessed my generation's moon landing. The world will not be the same. We have crossed the threshold. And so my values and the voices of 1.2 billion people in the world that live with a disability absolutely have to be part of this,” he says.
This article is based on an interview with Victor Santiago Pineda.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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