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ITU Celebrates World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2018 with female space explorers and focus on artificial intelligence

Women highlighted as integral to advancement of AI and space exploration

Geneva, 17 May 2018

World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is an official United Nations day of observance. It is held annually on 17 May to promote the potential of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve societies and economies worldwide.

The day also marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs.

2018 theme: Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for all

In recent years there has been significant progress in AI technology. AI-based technologies are now emerging as a key component of tools and applications being used to help people lead better lives by improving healthcare, education, finance, agriculture, transportation, and a wide range of other services.

Every year since 1969, ITU Members and partners have organized events across the world on 17 May to recognize and promote the positive role ICTs can play in our societies and economies.

In recognition of WTISD 2018, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in his video message, "I commend the ITU for the critical role it plays in narrowing the digital divide and connecting people wherever they are, whatever their means. As we look to an increasingly digital future, I welcome your focus on exploring how artificial intelligence can accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

"Emerging technologies have the potential to empower people and transform how we transmit knowledge, increase agricultural yields, harvest sustainable and renewable energy, treat diseases and so much more. Let us keep working together to ensure these technologies serve the global good and all humanity."

At ITU headquarters in Geneva, the day was marked by an interactive forum with female astronauts and the first female private space explorer, who have been invited to share their perspectives on existing and potential AI-based technologies in space travel and exploration.

"As we reflect on the potential of artificial intelligence to accelerate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, our special guests can shed new light on the meaning of AI and tech for good – for everyone, in particular women and girls," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao in his opening remarks.

The women, who also shared their own inspiring examples of breaking gender barriers in the field of space science, included:

  • Liu Yang, Astronaut and Pilot; first Chinese woman in space
  • Samantha Cristoforetti, Astronaut and Pilot; first Italian woman in space
  • Anousheh Ansari, Member & Chair of Management, XPRIZE Foundation Board of Directors, Space Ambassador; first female private space explorer

Mr. Guterres also recognized these female space explorers in his video message, saying "They are an inspiration to our efforts to expand opportunities for women and girls in technology." 

During the WTISD event, Mr Zhao recognized the ongoing 50-year contribution to ITU of Dr Marko Jagodic with the presentation of an ITU 50-year medal. Dr Jagodic began in 1968 as a representative of the national Telecommunication Industry and Academia, and went on to become a founding Member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Telecommunications Development – marking the beginning of a new era in ITU's development work and leading to the creation of the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector.  

"From the start, Dr Jagodic's work made a significant impact on the specific needs of developing countries. ITU is grateful to you and through you to the many, many experts all over the world who have strengthened the role of our organization in its more than 150-year history," said Mr Zhao.

The inaugural issue of the new ITU Journal: ICT Discoveries – which has a special focus on artificial intelligence – was also celebrated at the event.

For more information about WTISD, please visit: