5th December 2023
By Wendy Collinson

Education and Journalism: Making AI safe for humanity

Keynote Speech of Aidan White, Ethical Journalism Network President to WISE summit – November 28th 2023 


EJN President Aidan White focused on the challenges faced by journalists and news media in identifying, combating, and debunking disinformation in a keynote address to 11th WISE Summit, the major global education summit held every two years in Qatar.

The meeting, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation, brings together more than 3,000 teachers, academics, policymakers and public institutions to discuss education issues and this year the optimistic theme was human flourishing in the age of AI.

White said that academic freedom and press freedom were twin pillars of free speech and educators and journalists shared a commitment to truth-telling and reliability of information which are at the heart of heart of building public trust. 

But that trust, he warned, is under threat like never before.

 “This amazing technology may well change the world, but it will not automatically make it a better place,” he said. 

He said that the challenges posed by AI-generated propaganda and deep fakes could have a damaging impact on politics, democracy and people’s lives unless it was introduced and used in a framework of values.

“We already know that AI it can do good things – for example in improving health care and allowing machines to take over thousands of boring, mindless and repetitive tasks,” he said. “But in the hands of the wrong people – criminals, dictators, or people who want to make war not peace – this technology can be a force for evil.”

He said AI could be a force for improving journalism and fortifying educational systems but this was not automatic. 

Drawing from real-world examples, including the crisis in Palestine, he showed how disinformation campaigns and media bias were being driven by the misuse of information technologies.

The potential crisis is such, he said, that news media and journalists were getting together to try to define some rules and guidelines to ensure that the infrastructure for the use of AI in journalism are fit for purpose.

Aidan White speaks at the 11th WISE Summit (Image courtesy of Edugist)

He highlighted the international Paris Charter on AI and Journalism, prepared by more than 30 experts and media support groups, and the first of its kind, which had been presented to the Paris Peace Forum early in November. 

The aim of the Charter, which embraces the core values of the Ethical Journalism Network – accuracy, independence, impartiality, transparency and humanity — sought to eliminate malicious lies, incitement to hatred and violence. 

With its focus on transparency, monitoring and human oversight it would make AI a positive force for quality information. 

He said educators and journalists share an ambition to eradicate ignorance, poverty and fear through the empowering strength of truth-telling and sharing knowledge. 

“Whether we are engaged in sharing knowledge or research or investigating and interrogating the events and realities of human society we provide intelligence and fact-based information that is vital for the public we serve,” he said.

“That is part of the social role we play in society,” he said. “This is not a marginal benefit for humanity, but gets to the heart of what we mean by being human.”

He said that journalists often paid a heavy price in carrying out this work.

“More than 50 journalists, many of them targeted, have already been killed in reporting the Gaza conflict,” he said, “the heaviest media death toll in any conflict since records began more than 30 years ago.” 

To meet the challenge of AI he said new rules would have to be in introduced, but governments were divided on how to proceed

Some, like those at the first governmental AI summit held at Bletchley Park in the UK at the beginning of November preferred light touch regulation, while others are already imposing bans and strict controls on the use of AI.

He warned that this may not deal properly with the potential problems and could be an excuse in some countries – like China – to double down on existing restrictions on human rights that limit free speech.

He said the approach of the European Union, which is are trying to classify the different uses of AI according to the risks its poses, may be a better approach but even this will only work if it is flexible and will only work if it is based on settled principles, such as the centrality of human control of how the technology works.

The Paris Charter, he said, had been drafted with these priorities in mind and calls for AI to be guided by ethics, transparency and the centrality of human oversight. These guidelines demand disclosure about how AI systems are trained, how they operate and how they are monitored.

“AI is an important transformative technology,” he said. “It’s as revolutionary as the invention of cars and flying machines and needs rules, to make it safe for public use. We will need the equivalent of seat belts and safety devices in cars, black box flight recorders in planes, and industrial laws to reduce accidents at work to protect us from the dangers of robotic automation in our lives.”

Above all, he said, there is a need to continue the debate – on how we push back against the relentless pursuit of profit and the greed, self-interest and self-regard of techno optimists. 

“We also need to recognise that the debate about AI and its use is currently under the control of a charmed circle of elites from the political and corporate centres of power in the richest countries of the world,” he said.

“We need to make the debate inclusive, diverse and relevant to all the countries of the world,” he said. “By building bridges to others, working together around principles that we share, and putting people at the heart of everything we do we can ensure that artificial intelligence is properly recognised as a public good that can be made safe for all of humanity.”

Download the Charter for AI and news media in English and French: