By: Mahdi Kabir

Since the UN member states adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a vow to ensure that everyone can enjoy peace, prosperity, and protection in 2015, seemingly little progress has been made to reach them. This is, at least in part, due to the ambitiousness of the SDGs. In fact, the SDG agenda markedly differs from its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). For one, the SDGs address a greater number of universal issues than the MDGs, including but not limited to poverty, inequality, climate change, clean water, and peace and justice. Secondly, the SDGs are far more ambitious than the MDGs as rather than requiring only developed countries to reach social goals, the SDGs require all member states—wealthy or poor—to achieve all of 17 goals. 

The Role of Technology

The underlying objective of the UN’s 2015 goals is a lasting abundance of prosperity for future generations across the globe. Given the importance of this objective, there seems to be global lacklustre performance in realizing the SDGs. Living in the age of emerging intelligent technologies, it is only reasonable to wonder what roles technology can, should, and will play. Certainly, there is reluctance to use technological innovation to further social goals due to fears about racial or gender bias, privacy invasions, and potential job loss. That said, the development and adoption of emerging technology that increases accessibility, diminishes disparity, and promotes equality of race and gender is crucial to achieve the SDGs by the fast -approaching UN deadline of 2030.

The Convergence of Law and AI

Recently, the Conflict Analytics Lab has developed an online platform that allows for greater access to justice through predictive dispute resolution research. The Lab’s platform, MyOpenCourt, helps individuals determine whether they are an employee or an independent contractor, and can also determine how much compensation one is entitled to if terminated from their position. In April this year, the Canadian unemployment rate soared to 13% and Canada lost nearly 2 million jobs1. Needless to say, MyOpenCourt comes at a critical time. The majority of Canadian workers cannot afford an employment lawyer and may live in areas where experts skilled in employment law are limited. The launch of MyOpenCourt means that individuals suffering financial loss as a result of the pandemic will now understand their rights — and their options.

SDG 16 & AI

With regard to the 17 SDGs, the Conflict Analytics Lab contributes to two incredibly important goals — SDG 16(.3), and SDG 17. SDG 16, “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions”, targets to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development , provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels”² contains a target that the Lab has made meaningful progress towards, with the help of AI. SDG 16.3 speaks to the rule of law and equal access to justice for all, thus requiring a change to fundamental structures in society³. According to Justice Canada, the main barriers to access to justice include financial cost and lack of information and availability of services

SDG 17 & AI 

The fundamental structures in society that perpetuate disparities of wealth and knowledge in Canada cannot be transformed overnight. Indeed, the UN recognizes that increasing legal information and the accessibility and affordability of legal services requires much collaborative effort. Enter SDG 17—Partnerships for the Goals. SDG 17 broadly attempts to establish global partnerships and increase the instruments of successful implementation of the SDGs. SDG target 17.16, particularly, discusses “multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries…”.5 

Materializing global multi-stakeholder partnerships is a feat in itself because the sharing of knowledge, intellectual property, technology, and financial resources requires immense effort and an established, high degree of trust. By establishing a network of experts across the nation and globe (SDG17), the Conflict Analytics Lab is able to use machine learning to provide legal advice at no cost, thus making meaningful progress towards SDG 16.3—increasing access to justice. In the world’s journey to a sustainable planet, Dr. Dahan, the Lab, and global partners have made a sizable contribution to the achievement of SDG 16 and 17 in Canada and in partner countries.