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The role of Artificial Intelligence in protecting children in the digital space

Posted on Aug 17, 2021

What is Artificial Intelligence?
For practical purposes Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the way computers use algorithms, a set of rules, to make decisions, often without any direct human intervention and at great speed. Because they work at great speed, they can make an enormous number of decisions in a short period of time, this is one of the reasons it can be very beneficial in aiding the protection of children online. 


How can AI protect children online?
The ability to process huge amounts of information quickly is vital. For example, say a law enforcement agency finds tens of millions of files (videos, images, etc.) on a suspect’s computer, without specialised tools they would  need to go through all of them to see if there are any CSAM. This would take a human team an exceptionally long time and would have a severely negative impact on the welfare of investigators.  So, they may use an AI-based system in combination with other specialised tools to sort through this data and identify the images and videos showing child sexual abuse. This enables them to build a case faster, identify victims, and ultimately help victims seek justice and get the support they need. At the same time, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and a range of online platforms and apps use these kinds of systems to detect  child sexual abuse material so they can remove  them and report them to law enforcement.


That’s great! Does it always work?
The ability to process  huge amounts of data in a short time is vital to the protection of children. However, it is not without flaws. The computer is learning and responding to  rules that are pre-programmed by humans. As such, the AI system will make the same decision every time. This can be beneficial or a challenge, as it overrides human error, but it can be biased to the predetermined rules and potentially miss something important.


So where does ECPAT International land on AI?
Ultimately, AI can be used to  protect children, which makes its responsible application paramount for  ECPAT International. At the same time, the organisation feels it is very important for businesses to be accountable for their use of algorithms. In this sense, ECPAT supports the growing movement including in the EU in support of human-centric rather than data-centric AI. This means developing and using AI for positive human and societal impact , ensuring appropriate oversight mechanisms to guard against negative effects such as human and data-driven bias. . 


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