This article is published in the March 2021 issue.

CCC Executive Council Member Nadya Bliss on Applying AI in the Fight Against Modern Slavery

Contributions to this post were provided by CCC Vice Chair Daniel Lopresti. 

Nadya Bliss headshot

Nadya Bliss

AI for Good Global Summit hosted a webinar on AI to Prevent Modern Slavery, Human Trafficking and Forced and Child Labour and featured Computing Community Consortium (CCC) Executive Council Member Nadya Bliss (Executive Director of the Global Security Initiative at Arizona State University) as well as Alice Eckstein (Programme Manager, Modern Slavery Programme at United Nations University – Centre for Policy Research), Doreen Boyd (Professor of Earth Observation, Faculty of Social Sciences at University of Nottingham), James Goulding (Deputy Director N/LAB, Faculty of Social Sciences at University of Nottingham) and Anjali Mazumder (Thematic Lead on AI, Justice and Human Rights at The Alan Turing Institute). 

Bliss talked in great detail about how to apply emerging AI technology to combat and mitigate the challenges of modern slavery and human trafficking and the four key areas that were identified during the March 2020 CCC / Code 8.7 Workshop on Applying AI in the Fight Against Modern Slavery (whose report will be released this spring). 

The critical areas where AI can be applied in the context of human trafficking are:

  • Network Analysis– An understanding of the spatial-temporal dynamics of Modern Slavery is crucial for increasing the effectiveness of policy and interventions. Network analysis must be aimed at identifying hidden populations targeted for exploitation, detecting signs of trafficking earlier when it begins to arise and recommending effective interventions to avoid simply pushing it off to another region after it is uncovered. 
  • Perceptive Agents to Provide Survivor Support and Identify Tipping Points- Interactive, intelligent agents that are aware, deeply perceptive, and fully conversant could take advantage of many opportunities to intervene and support the day-to-day choices that make a difference for vulnerable individuals walking the line between exploitation and freedom. Throughout the lifetime of their interactions, these agents can also accumulate valuable knowledge that would be useful to the experts who are working to identify and disrupt trafficking activities before they take hold.
  • Data Integration, Sharing and Pipelines– As stakeholders increasingly rely on digital data to perform their various work functions, there is a lack of framework around data standards for the anti-trafficking movement. It is difficult to access research-quality data to perform important analyses to identify patterns and trends and evaluate the efficacy of interventions. The overarching challenge created by this reality is an inability to both ensure the security of highly sensitive data, as well as identify and aggregate meaningful sources of actionable intelligence across a wide range of sources to combat the problem, whether that be identifying perpetrator patterns for intervention, evaluating support services for survivors, enhancing law enforcement efforts, or just generally putting resources where they can have the most impact.
  • Ethics and Privacy– Ethics-infused AI techniques that integrate, process, and make sense of diverse and heterogeneous data arriving from a wide range of sources. These techniques should also keep in mind and develop privacy-preserving techniques for survivors and ensure that ethics is baked into the AI algorithms both at the modular and systems level.

As Bliss highlighted, as we move into the adoption of technology we need to recognize that AI is not a solution for everything and there are many components to also consider. It will be critical to bring in domain expertise and expertise from outside computer science along with AI researchers to solve this highly complex problem. Finally, the involvement of survivors in developing AI technologies is also of vital importance. Their lived experiences provide raw data which is critical, and their opinions about what constitutes effective research and interventions will prove invaluable. 

Please see the recording from the webinar here and keep an eye out for the upcoming CCC / Code 8.7 Workshop on Applying AI in the Fight Against Modern Slavery report.