Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of World Arabic Language Day
18 December 2019
On this World Arabic Language Day, we celebrate a powerful symbol of the identity of more than 400 million people around the world. We also celebrate a brilliant scientific and cultural heritage transmitted and forged in the Arabic language – the language of scholars such as Avicenna or Albucasis, the language of scientific and technological innovation par excellence.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, humanity is also going through a period of major technological innovation. Artificial intelligence, the theme of this year's celebration, opens new horizons and reveals the scope of possibilities; it represents a technological, scientific and economic revolution, but also marks an anthropologically disruptive turning point, raising unprecedented ethical dilemmas.
The development of artificial intelligence will have many repercussions, including in the areas of multilingualism and cultural diversity. Such disruption is indeed a major challenge, particularly when it comes to preventing access to new technologies from being conceivable only in a limited number of languages. In order to preserve the cultural diversity that gives humanity its richness, it is important to ensure that artificial intelligence is an inclusive technology, including linguistically, so that technological barriers are not reinforced by language barriers.
While it poses its share of threats to multilingualism, artificial intelligence is also a formidable source of opportunities and promise. With the development of instantaneous translation tools, it could facilitate dialogue between peoples and cultures. With improved and personalized teaching, it could also greatly facilitate the learning of several languages and thus promote the development of the Arabic language.
All these questions will be on the minds of the speakers who will be debating today at UNESCO during round tables aimed at encouraging dialogue between the scientific community and lovers of the Arabic language, so that technology can help rather than hinder multilingualism.
Its universality, its multidisciplinary expertise in the field of the ethics of science, and its inherent commitment to humanist values make UNESCO the ideal forum for such debates. The 40th session of the General Conference of UNESCO thus confirmed the leading role played by our Organization in this field, by mandating UNESCO to draw up the first global standard-setting instrument on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
Shaping the future rather than being shaped by it; bringing together technology and humanity; encouraging technological progress while promoting cultural diversity: these are the challenges we will be bearing in mind on this World Arabic Language Day.