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Digital Superdiversity & Inclusion

Photo credit: Karin Lachmising

At its core, social inclusion is the idea of giving all citizens the chance to participate meaningfully in society, in economic, social, political and cultural sense. It is important to note this - even in the context of this conference - because the concept of inclusion is at risk of being framed & diluted much like the concept diversity. The ideal of an inclusive society is not new: ancient empires, like the Roman empire, understood the importance of inclusion for resilience and empowerment. The challenge of inclusion was then, and still is now how to achieve it in ways that are effective and fair, for every one, including those at the margins of society. In recent history, the universal right to equality before the law and protection against discrimination have been the fundament for social inclusion.

With societies becoming global, pluralistic and superdivers, new fundamental questions about social inclusion are emerging. Do universal equal rights – regulated and enforced at the state-level - actually deliver equality for all in in everyday life? And is the call - at grass roots level - for differential rights, entitlements and treatments for some groups, a response to the lack of equality in practice? Superdivers societies will have to deal with the right to be treated differently, which is growing in the shadows of the right to be treated equally

The digital society may harmonize the emerging shift from  the right to be treated equally  to  the right to be treated differently. AI technology may help realize universal equal rights in practice - and/or – it may facilitate differential rights and treatments for some groups. The digital society, however, also  bears the risk of becoming an escape: a safe space for current inequalities, injustices and power structures. Traces of AI bias against woman, people of color,  religious believers and other minority groups are already prevalent in the digitizal societies. And not to mention traces of white-supremacy.

In how far the digital society will  boost social  inclusion will much depend on WHO develops AI, WHO regulates it, and WHO actually uses it. If the “WHO’s” are demographically not representative, AI will surely increase already existing social inequalities, injustices and power structures. If the “WHO’s” are demographically representative, AI offers an opportunity to come out of the zero-sum frame of inclusion, namely the frae that inclusion of some equals exclusion of others. The challenge ahead of  all of us - citizens, communities, corporates and governments – is to both claim our share in the digital future ánd cooperate in concert

This is why I am currently devoting my time to the foundation of Civic AI lab, CAIL. CAIL is a  cooperation between knowledge institutes UvA /VU and societal partners at the national Innovation Center AI (ICAI) . Going beyond the general mantra for democratising AI, which is the mantra “AI for all”  - CAIL’s mantra is “AI for all cannot be without AI by all”. The lab will develop AI technologies that engage, empower and connect citizens and communities in a fair and inclusive manner. The lab’s current focus is on development of AI technologies that enhance social integration and participation of citizens, especially those at the margin if society.

What remains to be seen is whether social stakeholders are willing to participate in and contribute to CAIL in the same way industrial stakeholders are participating in and contribute to industrial labs at ICAI. Do municipalities, government institutions, civil society etc, see the opportunities for social inclusion provided by AI? Are they willing to actively invest in and actively help shape AI, rather than being passive observers? AI technologies driving inclusion and equality already exist. Can we develop these further to a new level and use them?

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