Inclusively-MEF Global Forum 2024 | How AI can help build a more inclusive future

A conversation with GMS, Meta and Telefonica at MWC2024

Watch the recording

Chris' summary

Weaving AI into the Inclusively discussion

AI is the single most important development to accelerate inclusion. It brings totally new dimensions to accessibility and inclusion. It brings all of the different elements contributing to inclusion together and in a format consumable by everyone, whatever their circumstances. And, perhaps most importantly, it will fundamentally improve the quality of life for literally billions of people around the globe.

During the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) event at the Mobile World Congress in February 2024, Monica Paolini and I had an opportunity to bring a panel together to discuss the role of AI in the Inclusion discussion. We were joined by:

  • Marina Petrova, Head of GenAI Business – GMS
  • Yaiza Rubio Viñuela, Chief Metaverse Officer – Telefónica
  • Vinod Samarawickrama, Manager Network Infrastructure and Ecosystem – Meta

In the green room discussion, it was suggested that AI is the greatest invention since fire. It might certainly be up there as the most important development since the Internet, but comparing to fire and the wheel is probably a step too far!

If we implement AI inclusively, the skillsets will be more embedded into the systems, devices and applications, making it easier for people to choose their preferred means of interacting with their device, creating content or collaborating and communicating with fellow human beings – let alone machines. It may well change the very nature of what we consider to be the human interface into the digital world. Furthermore, the benefits of being better connected will come at a much lower cost with a choice of devices and means of interaction.

AI gives us an opportunity to build the Inclusive thinking into everything we do as an industry. It will not only be the right thing to do but it will also expand the addressable telecoms market.

Below is a full narrative of the panelists’ contributions  and you can also read the AI report that I wrote for MEF which is more broadly based than the Inclusion topic but helps put AI into context.

Yaiza Rubio Viñuela, Chief Metaverse Officer – Telefónica

Yaiza has been Chief Metaverse Officer for wo years at Telefonica and they are aiming to create a new Internet for all people.  New areas such as VR bring great opportunities for creating this extended Internet, but this also comes with its challenges and Telefonica produced a white paper two years ago outlining them.  One of the challenges was the possibility of the digital divide getting even greater. So, Telefonica has been focused on developing solutions that minimize this potential worsening of the situation, and indeed build towards removing it completely. Since that paper Telefonica has built people into the team to ensure Inclusive Design from a product perspective. In addition to building a more inclusive team, Telefonica is also working with external organizations like ONCE  in Spain   to bring their expertise to the table of working with some of the target markets to be addressed.

For Yaiza, design is everything when it comes to developing a digital ecosystem. Designing for targeted specific groups tends to have a negative connotation hence designing for all is a much more effective approach.

VR and AR can be used to enhance the visual environment for those with some useful sight but AR can help create an image of the environment for people without sight. Experiencing immersive content is also opened up to the vision impaired community through using these headsets. In fact, these devices can help people interact with their surroundings as the technology gets more miniaturized and more dynamic.

Yaiza is so excited by the possibilities of devices improving the quality of life for so many people that she went back to university to do further studies on the subject. In fact, this emphasizes the point that the development of AI is a combination of all industry and academia to get the most of this important new wave of development.

Yaiza believes the Metaverse and AI are totally intertwined. Telefonica is introducing AI agents to help people navigate the Metaverse and benefit from digital twinning and the abundance of content coming available to people in multiple formats. Natural language is a more accessible way to give a larger proportion of people access to the wonders of the Metaverse. This is clearly manifested in the use of the Telefonica agent Aura to allow customers to interact with the telco for a wide range of services. This started over ten years ago with Telefonica when designing offerings and building a closer relationship with all customers, but especially with those who might be more vulnerable. Creating that level of trust with so much change taking place is at the centre of Telefonica’s thinking.

Vinod Samarawickrama, Manager Network Infrastructure and Ecosystem – Meta

Vinod believes that AI is the single most important development to accelerate inclusion and AI brings totally new dimensions to accessibility. In many ways it brings all the different elements contributing to inclusion together and in a format consumable by everyone, whatever their circumstances. And, perhaps most importantly, it will fundamentally improve the quality of life for literally billions of people around the globe.

Vinod is responsible for the quality and experience of the apps that Meta delivers to its customers on a global basis. This involves rendering content from data centres out to the edge where it is then delivered by the CSP partners down to the individuals.  Vinod’s role is to work with the world’s CSPs to improve the quality of experience for all users.

For Vinod there are four essential pillars to accelerate inclusion:

  • Devices: which devices can be used by the differently excluded people
  • Creators: who can produce the software to create the experience
  • Platform: IOS, Android,
  • Connectivity: we need the right connectivity to be in place to deliver the full end-to-end service.

Vinod pointed out that 60-70% of the unconnected world is in Asia and Africa. How can AI help bring those unconnected people into the digital world? This is a blend of the market producing more affordable devices, such as sub-$100 or even sub-$50 smartphones. But, without high-quality ubiquitous connectivity, those devices will be restricted to local WiFi and erratic cellular connectivity. So there is still a role for governments, regulators and investors to drive that final push to get the whole of the world connected. And this then brings these people into the TAM for the digital services market. What we have seen from developments in India especially is that the scale can be reached where very low ARPUs can fully support markets. The other missing element here is arming people with the right skills to exploit the technology and connectivity. AI will help by making the interaction with devices and applications/content less restrictive which also helps the ageing population who might struggle to acquire these skills.

Marina Petrova, Head of GenAI Business – GMS

Marina is now the Head of GenAI for GMS having been the co-founder of Intentful (recently acquired by GMS). She believes that AI is as important as the discovery of  fire and the wheel, but also understands that it comes with a high level of responsibility in terms of implementation and ensuring that existing bias is driven out of all activities. The importance of AI is clear to Marina, but the notion of co-development and co-intelligence is critical to making sure that humanity makes the most of the AI potential. She quoted from Ethan Mollick’s book Co-Intelligence “after millions of years on our own, we now have the technology to create co-intelligence that can augment and even replace some human thinking”.

She says it’s truly fascinating to see how AI technology can improve the way we create and consume content and make everything accessible to everyone. All of this whilst learning to co-exist with the new forms of intelligence!

The launch of GPT Vision in mid-2023 opened up the ability to recognize and describe the context of an image. This description can be described in any preferred style. As well as describing ‘the world’ to people, it can also be used to identify how accessible web sites are. Currently, around 95% of web sites are not accessible. Cutting through the complexity that we have created over decades of internet and web development is empowering for everyone, let alone the people living with different disabilities.

Marina sees so many changes happening in the coming years in terms of where the power of compute is needed to support the AI contribution to inclusion. This is, of course, part of the race to get to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) as pursued by the big players such as Microsoft. But, it also applies to the more focused development of AI. Open source is incredibly important in helping smaller, more focused players develop their solution.

She thinks perhaps we should see AI as a mechanism to bring the best out of the technology for the good of humanity.

Marina’s business always has at least three sets of eyes on the generation of content from the GenAI system. It is important to identify that content has been produced by AI, edited by humans and many degrees in between. But, it is equally important to acknowledge that the output will be driven by what the customer wants in terms of the content they want to read, the content they want to create and their preference for quality and, indeed, the source upon which that content is based.

We use cookies to improve your browsing experience. By continuing to use the website you allow Senza Fili to deploy cookies, as detailed in our privacy policy.