W4RA team at UNIMAS: joint education, staff mobility and joint research

Universities in South-East Asia offer interesting opportunities for joint challenge-based research and community-oriented (service-learning) education. The University of Malaysia Sarawak is particularly strong in community outreach. They started this in 2017, in collaboration with Cornell University in the US, and have over the years collected a wealth of digitized data and field experience related to indigenous knowledge in Sarawak. We at VU can learn and make grateful use of these data and of their interesting case studies.

A memorandum of understanding between VU and UNIMAS, signed in 2018, has materialized in joint education in a course called “ICT4D in the Field”, which is now an elective course at VU for Computer Science, Information Science and AI master students, in which VU students do interesting community-oriented group assignments about “Artificial Intelligence in and for the Globals South” together with students from UNIMAS.

In October 2022 a delegation of the Centre for International Cooperation and the Computer Science Department visited UNIMAS again, through the Erasmus+ program for staff mobility. The VU-team facilitated a curriculum review and a workshop on academic writing & dissemination for academic staff of UNIMAS. Two other highlights of this visit: Prof. Jaap Gordijn was appointed visiting professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business of UNIMAS and emeritus prof. Hans Akkermans has been appointed visiting professor at the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology of UNIMAS and has become involved in several curriculum reviews. Prof. Hans gave his inaugural address on 23 October 2022 at UNIMAS, in the presence of the Dean and many researchers and lecturers from UNIMAS.

 This activity is made possible though a grant from the EU in the Erasmus+ program KA-107. 

Francis Dittoh starts Internet Society’s TIBaLLi project

Can advanced AI methods (ML, NLP) be reconstructed so as to make the Internet more inclusive for communities in low-resource environments in the Global South — such that local weather data combined with Internet-based global climate information become sharable beyond the Internet’s current boundaries and in people’s own language?

It is generally thought that the main concern of the Digital Divide is having access to the Internet. However, according to Francis Dittoh, rolling out the Internet in not just the full solution. For example, the fact that Beyoncé has issued her latest album sitting on a horse on the cover photo might not be the top priority news right now for farming families in the Sahel.

“Decolonizing the Internet” is about providing truly locally relevant information in languages and modalities people and communities are familiar with. Therefore the TIBaLLi project will address local content, relevance and salience of offered Internet information.

The TIBaLLi project undertakes to address both both language and relevance of content. This will be done by participatory field experimentations in collaboration with rural communities in northern Ghana. The project’s focus is: on highly relevant local content such as weather/climate information, related to farming in the Sahel and on delivering such information via automatically generated voice messages in a domain-focused speech vocabulary that is crowd-sourced from rural communities themselves.

Francis Dittoh, who is the principle investigator of this research project, is going to deliver a novel and, more importantly, participatory AI method to deal with many “small” local languages in spoken form. Crowd sourcing and field experimentation substantiate this in this project. Participatory AI is very new, and certainly so regarding the Global South.
Also, electronically delivery of solid information in speech and local language to communities beyond the current boundaries of the Internet is new. This project will point to Internet information beyond the current Internet.

ICT4D in the Field 2022

In June 2022 the international 6 EC master course ICT4D in the Field will take place, this time as a collaborative online international course. ICT4D addresses probolems of and solutions for the “unconnected people in the world”. This is still close to half of the world’s population, the majority of whom live in poor, remote, often rural regions of the world, often in so-called developing low-middle income countries.

AI for Social Good, in & for the Global South

This year’s theme is Artificial Intelligence in and for the Global South. AI is at the centre of attention as an innovative digital technology with a claimed wide range of beneficial application opportunities, although also doubts and concerns are being expressed. What impact can AI and Data Science have in a low-resource context in the Global South?

The course ICT4D in the Field undertakes to critically investigate these matters in and for the Global South, giving due attention to the specificity of people’s needs as well as to the geographic, economic, cultural and socio-political contexts in which they live.

Workshop DigDivDigHum

From its inception, the World Wide Web endeavours to be an open and free space for all for information and knowledge sharing and informed public democratic debate (see for example the ACM Turing Award lecture by Tim Berners-Lee at WebSci’18), in other words, “to serve humanity”. Still, there are many barriers and obstacles to this ideal, a situation commonly characterized as the Digital Divide.

Several billion people especially in the Global South do not have access to Internet/Web for reasons of lacking (affordable) infrastructure, poverty, low literacy, lack of digital skills, language, etc., and are thus digitally excluded.

But “the fringes of the Web” are not just a matter of the Global South. In the Global North, despite being technologically “advanced”, we also see severe digital inequalities and power disparities, in part for the same reasons and in part due to the Web being exploited as a centralized surveillance and money-making machine, controlled by big parties such as states and big corporations, thus creating further inequalities and exclusion.

In this workshop, we aim to bring together ongoing research on the Web and the Digital Divide and on what to do about it. Apart from empirically grounded (case) studies and theoretical analyses of mechanisms behind digital inequalities, we also seek,  in view of recent initiatives such as Digital Humanism or Tim Berners Lee’s SOLID initiative, programmatic or solution design-oriented work from multiple disciplines, and concrete experiences on what scientists and professionals can do to help redress matters of digital inequality and exclusion. We encourage work rooted in the Global South, as both topics of interest for and authors from the Global South are underrepresented in Web Science, but also welcome work addressing matters of the Digital Divide and underprivileged communities in the Global North.

The Sixth International Symposium

This annual Symposium “Perspectives on ICT4D” aims to gather a broad community of researchers and practitioners to discuss and reflect on barriers and paradigms that hamper information sharing for billions of people in the world. With this event we want to facilitate a reflective debate that should include the people at the “other” side of the digital divide, whose voices are all too often ignored.

This year’s theme was how to tackle “Global Challenges” in a collaborative, trans-disciplinary way. Food Security is one of the Global Challenges. With a rapidly growing population in West Africa, expansion of food production is extremely important. In recent years rapid technological advances have been made in agro-technology how to produce high quality and high yield cereal seeds that can feed a growing population.

In Mali high quality seeds (semences de base) are distributed to farmers, with support from the government, research institutes and international development agencies, seed certification agencies and the private sector. However, the local organization of the value chain, the match between offerings and demands is still an important issue to be solved.

In this symposium we discussed how the seed value chain might be improved from the grassroots perspective. We aimed to better understand the role of information and communication technologies and networks for development, and how this could be embedded in the local context to serve local needs, for example of African farmers in Mali, or rural communities in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Students in the ICT4D course 2019 have built models and prototypes to support the work of seed producing farmers in rural Mali. They gave demos and short pitches and discussed their group projects in a poster session.

With this annual symposium we aim to provide a forum for interdisciplinary debate around the challenges presented. We will explore technical, social and economical barriers as well as opportunities in search of practical, innovative, socially acceptable and meaningful solutions.

The Symposium was also part of the ICT4D master course for students Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence and Information Science.

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