National Stakeholder Consultation Held to Assess AI Readiness in Bangladesh

Staff Reporter: The ICT Division of Bangladesh, in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Aspire to Innovate-a2i, hosted the National Stakeholder Consultation on the country’s readiness towards safe, trusted, and ethical use of AI on 10 July 2024. The event, titled ‘National Stakeholder Consultation on Assessing AI Readiness of Bangladesh,’ took place at the BCC Auditorium in ICT Tower, Dhaka. It brought together a diverse spectrum of stakeholders, including government officials, development partners, academics, private sector representatives, and civil society members.

Bangladesh is proactively embracing AI to drive innovation and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Partnering with international organisations like UNESCO and UNDP, Bangladesh Government is working on capacity building, developing regulatory frameworks, and promoting policies and programmes that can drive ethical development, design, and deployment of AI technologies. The a2i is actively involved in policymaking and the implementation of AI-driven projects across various sectors.

Hon’ble State Minister of Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications, and Information Technology, Mr. Zunaid Ahmed Palak, MP, speaking as the Chief Guest, emphasized that AI’s transformative potential brings significant ethical challenges. He highlighted the need for a multi-faceted approach to address these challenges, involving technological solutions, robust policy frameworks, regulatory measures, and international cooperation. He stressed the importance of ensuring that AI technologies do not widen existing inequalities but rather help bridge the digital divide and empower all sections of society.

ICT Secretary Md. Shamsul Arefin stated that our goal is to harness the transformative power of ethical AI for everyone’s benefit. Let us seize this opportunity to create a future where AI technologies are developed and deployed ethically, contributing positively to our society.


Mr. Md. Mahmudul Hossain Khan, Secretary of Coordination & Reforms at the Cabinet Division, said as special guest, “This is a vital step in understanding our current position and determining our path forward to fully harness the power of AI. Identifying the gaps, opportunities, and challenges in AI adaptation will guide us in formulating strategies that are both effective and sustainable for the development of our society.”

Mr. Md. Mamunur Rashid Bhuiyan, Project Director (Additional Secretary) of a2i and CEO of the Agency to Innovate, discussed the government’s preparedness for AI. He stated, ‘We began working with AI in 2018 and 2019, leading to the development of the AI National Strategy 2019. Currently, we are focused on creating AI policies and laws, with a strong emphasis on ethical considerations.”

Mr. Charles Whiteley, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union in Bangladesh, expressed the EU’s support for initiatives like UNESCO’s AI Readiness Assessment Methodology. He emphasized the importance of considering all dimensions-legal, social, cultural, scientific, economic, and technical-when evaluating our readiness level.

Ms. Huhua Fan, OIC Head of the UNESCO Office in Dhaka stated, “Today we are bringing together all relevant stakeholders to facilitate a comprehensive dialogue. Our discussions will contribute to the RAM country report and its policy recommendations, ensuring they address the priority needs of Bangladesh.”

Ms. Sonali Dayaratne, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Bangladesh, stated, all countries are impacted by AI, and emerging economies need a voice in the global AI race. We hope to empower Bangladesh with that voice.

Ms. Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, stated that at UNESCO, the conversation on Artificial Intelligence is seen as a social issue, not just a technological one. The aim is not only to regulate these technologies but to guide their development in a way that serves human goals and advances overall development.

The consultation provided a platform for critical discussions aimed at integrating safe, trusted, and ethical AI considerations into AI strategies and programmes across different sectors including education, transportation, RMG, agriculture, and commerce. It ensured that the deployment of AI technologies aligns with public welfare and adheres to international norms and standards. Extensive dialogue on the concept of safe and trusted AI, its ethical implications, and the societal impact of AI technologies were deliberated upon through panel discussions and breakout group sessions.

Following the speeches of the Chief Guest and Special Guests in the inauguration session, Dr. Farig Yousef Sadeque, Associate Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at BRAC University, introduced the fundamental concepts of AI technologies and their potential risks. Ms. Eunsong Kim, Programme Specialist at UNESCO South Asia Regional Office, discussed the importance of considering the ethical dimension in AI development.

A panel discussion on global governance of AI technologies featured Mr. James Wright, Programme Specialist, Section for Bioethics and the Ethics of Science and Technology at UNESCO Headquarters; Ms. Huhua Fan, Chief of Education Programme Sector at UNESCO Dhaka Office; and a representative from the World Bank (TBC). The discussion was moderated by Ms. Sheela Haq, Senior Governance Specialist at UNDP. Mr. Md. Afzal Hossain Sarwar, Head of Future Education at a2i, and Dr. Zulkarin Jahangir, Research Specialist at a2i, shared insights on AI policies and practices in Bangladesh.

Breakout groups facilitated by UNESCO discussed the ethical implementation of AI in various sectors, focusing on the relevance and importance of principles in the UNESCO Global Recommendation. The event concluded with group presentations and a session on AI readiness assessment in Bangladesh, led by Mr. Md. Mamunur Rashid Bhuiyan, Ms. Rumana Sharmin, and Ms. Eunsong Kim.

The ‘Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence’ was unanimously adopted in November 2021 by all 193 UNESCO Member States and is the first international standard-setting instrument on the ethics of AI. The protection of human rights and dignity is the cornerstone of the Recommendation, based on fundamental principles such as transparency and fairness, ensuring the critical role of human oversight in AI systems.

UNESCO is working with the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology to ensure that the core values and principles of the Global Recommendation are translated into concrete policy action with respect to data governance, environment and ecosystems, gender, education and research, and health and social well-being, among many other spheres.

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