Webinar: “Values-based Education, sustainability and artificial intelligence: challenges and opportunities”

On Thursday 13 April, ECI organized a webinar (in Spanish) to open a dialogue and an opportunity to reflect on “Values-based education, sustainability and artificial intelligence: challenges and opportunities”.

Lately, there has been a great interest in and debate around artificial intelligence (AI), a mix of enthusiasm, admiration, doubts, fear, suspicion and interest. Feelings that lead us to have some precaution on this area. What is artificial intelligence and what are its implications for education?

Two weeks ago, UNESCO made a call for Governments to apply the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (adopted in November 2021), the first normative framework to guide countries on the ethical use of AI and how to maximize its benefits and reduce its risks.  UNESCO made this call after the exponential growth on the use of AI instruments, in particular the use of ChatGPT in education.   In this context, UNESCO Director General affirmed:  “The world needs stronger ethical rules for artificial intelligence: this is the challenge of our time”.

On the other hand, at the end of March an expert group on AI and business people from this sector signed an open letter making a call “to pause for six months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4”.  A good question that emerges is: why these tech experts are asking for this pause?  In this letter, they affirm “AI systems with human competitive-intelligence can pause profound risks to society and humanity”, and, “advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources”

In any case, universities and schools around the world are probably asking themselves: what shall we do and how to adapt to this new reality?  Reactions are very diverse: “ we close our doors to this new technology, we find ways to incorporate it, we fully trust and accept it or we develop clear ethical guidelines to guide the development and use of AI tools,…”

This webinar generated a space to clarify some challenges and opportunities that we can encounter with the use of AI and the importance to foster an ethical view around its use with values education.  In the Webinar, it was mentioned that “as any tool, much depends on the use we give it, just like a knife can be used to cut a piece of bread, it can also be used to kill a person”. That is why it is important to clarify the implications of AI into education and promote its ethical use, because its misuse can become a real threat.

The Earth Charter reminds us that “with increased freedom, knowledge, and power comes increased responsibility to promote the common good”, and, “when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach”. (Principle 2b and 6)

The following speakers participated in this webinar:

  • Eglis Chacón: Policy Analyst and member of the research team of UNESCO IESALC.
  • María Vilches: Professor Emeritus of Ana G. Mendez University in Puerto Rico and professor and researcher at the Earth Charter Center for ESD.
  • Arnoldo Madrigal Pastor: Systems Engineer of University of Costa Rica and MBA from Costa Rican Technological Institute, with more than 30 years of experience in computer science.

These were the questions addressed during the webinar:

  • What could be challenges and risks for humanity of using massively AI systems?
  • What is the role of values education and ethics with regards to AI, specifically when including transparency, rigour, ethics and humanistic objectives in these systems?

We started the webinar inviting all attendees to share what they feel about this topic and what are possible questions and doubts they have.  Some concerns shared were:

  • If the AI depends to a large extent on the type of information that is fed, how do we avoid its manipulation, that is, what do we do if the AI is only fed with certain points of view or biased information?
  • In which aspects could be ethical to use AI when working on human development?
  • Is it ethical when AI takes away employment possibilities of people and put them in a vulnerable situation?
  • Can the excessive use of AI reduce our critical thinking and promote one correct way of thinking?
  • To what extent can AI limit or reduce human intelligence, mainly in children cognitive development?
  • Could AI contribute to accelerate social transformation towards sustainability?
  • What challenges and risks does the massive use of artificial intelligence systems present for humanity?

We heard the following reflections from our speakers:

“With no doubt, we are exposed to diverse potentialities that AI can have.  AI is nourished primarily by information. We know that it is a tool and its use is being discussed a lot because of the potential impact it can have to contribute to the advancement of things. But possibly, people have more questions than answers about it.  Hence the relevance of these discussion spaces to clarify what it is and how we can use this tool in favour of humanity. Since it is a technological tool that feeds on information, and knowing that the information is diverse, we must be careful with what kind of information is fed and how we use this information”.

Eglis Chacón

“I have mixed feelings… this latest wave of especially regenerative AI gives us a certain level of concern about the impact it may have on the learning process that is happening in our schools or informally.  We are still not aware of the potentialities of these tools that are being developed and we have to sit down and discuss and look for alternatives, to see the impacts in ethical terms that this may present for us on the planet.  Questions arise as to whether we will continue to develop this dependence on AI technology, how will the affective and emotional development of the next generations be and in what way this will be accessible to all, so we cannot embrace all this with our eyes closed, we need to take the necessary precautions…?”

María Vilches

“It is important to learn to use technology ethically…  AI is nothing new. AI has been around since about 1945…  We are all using AI already for many years every time we use “Waze,” every time “Siri” answers you a question, when you use “Alexa”, also with “Google maps”….  The thing is that the computer is the “time machine,” while we humans move in seconds and minutes, the computer moves in micro and nano seconds (millionths of millionths of a second) so we are fighting with a technology that can process faster than us many things.  Let’s remember that something like ChatGPT, if we don’t give it context, it won’t know what to answer… What worries me is that many AI tools are not yet sufficiently proven, ChatGPT itself is learning….  So the warning that are being made has two streams, on the one hand, those who talk about the need for regulation and on the other those who made a call to “stop it” but they may be the ones who will benefit the most from this, i.e. “stop because I go first”.  But indeed, it is legitimate to think that we could be developing tools that we do not know where they are going to end up? Then it is important to consider these ingredients: the quality of the information, the inclinations or preferences of the software designers and the manipulation of the data. ”

Arnoldo Madrigal

There was an important contribution from the participants who among others shared:

  • “Artificial Intelligence, like any technological alternative, has its pros and cons, the important thing is to use it with ethical criteria and with responsibility to take advantage of its benefits and mitigate its risks.”
  • AI will never replace purely human aspects such as LOVE, COMPASSION and CONSCIENCE. A sincere hug, the attentive listening of another human being, the gifts of nature (sunsets, the scent of flowers, the wind, the song of birds, etc.).

At the end of the session, the need to strengthen the sensitivity and essence of human beings was reaffirmed, promoting ethical values and the human capacity to use these tools ethically and responsibly, discerning good from bad and seeking to contribute to the common good. The need was felt to continue dialoguing and learning about this topic to further clarify:

  • What are the implications of AI for our life and work?
  • How can educational institutions adapt to advances in AI?
  • How can AI help us accelerate the much-needed social transformation towards sustainability?
  • And how to foster and strengthen values and human sensitivity in the face of advances in technology and knowledge?

The moderator closed the event by bringing the comment of one of the participants, Blanca Pastrana, who said:

“I believe that the real challenge in education today is FIRST: Educate to “BE” (to be a better human being to coexist with all living beings on the planet, educate to have EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE, educate for happy human beings who do not need anything external to have peace in their heart, human beings with values). Currently, education focuses on “HAVING”. Once existential education is prioritized, artificial intelligence is welcome.”

The event, moderated by Mirian Vilela, Executive Director of Earth Charter International, was organized by the UNESCO Chair in Education for Sustainable Development with the Earth Charter which has a focus on research and education programmes at the intersection between Sustainability, Education and Ethical Values.


https://www.unesco.org/es/articles/inteligencia-artificial-la-unesco-pide-los-gobiernos-que-apliquen-sin-demora-el-marco-etico-mundial y https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000381137_spa