Centre PhD Candidate Captures International Honour for AI Research in Combatting Modern Slavery

Adriana Bora

Our new QUT Centre for Data Science PhD Candidate Adriana Bora has just won the IRCAI AI Awards 2021, for her work to use artificial intelligence (AI) to combat modern slavery. 

The International Research Centre in Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) operates under the auspices of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and its AI Award highlights an individual’s work demonstrating the impact of the application of AI to address any of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

IRCAI announced Adriana as its 2021 AI Award winner for her efforts to develop AI solutions to combat a problem that affects over 40-million people worldwide, contributing to SDG 8, Target 8.7. 

“This award is a reassurance that more people are starting to pay attention to the crime of modern slavery, which feeds on the most vulnerable. It is also a timely re-enforcement that the work undertaken so far is going in the right direction, which motivates me even more to pursue this road less travelled,” says Adriana.

Of the 40.3-million people affected by modern slavery, about 16 million are estimated to be part of the supply chains of big corporations. Governments have begun requiring large corporations and organisations to publish annual statements outlining what they are doing to ensure that slavery is not part of their supply chains and operations.  But the current analysis of the statements, which is done manually, is very resource intensive. This process is leaving thousands of statements unanalysed and governments unable to assess actual levels of compliance.  

“Automating the process is the only way to achieve accountability at scale” says Adriana. 

As a graduate student at Sciences Po, the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) working with MediaLab, Adriana built an AI prototype that allows a census analysis of all the modern slavery statements that companies published to that date in response to the Modern Slavery Act in the United Kingdom. Since then, she joined The Future Society and gathered funding, a technical team, and a community of experts and advisors to begin scaling this solution. All the work is made open-source and available to the broader community to build upon. 

“By combining machine learning and computational techniques, we can really dig into these statements and answer questions about what are the leading companies in tackling slavery and what others need to do better,” says Adriana. 

“We also want to show the potential for embedding AI techniques in monitoring end evaluating existing legislation in countries like Australia and create recommendations for other governments looking to pass similar legislation.” 

For Adriana, this award comes at an opportune time as she tries to scale up the project by creating a proof of concept. 

“By winning this award, I get a stamp of recognition and endorsement from IRCAI and UNESCO that will hopefully help me as I try to secure future funding for the project,” says Adriana. 

Adriana’s work has already caught the attention of MILA, a world-renowned AI hub in Montreal, Quebec. She hopes MILA and its team of researchers can provide the technical support she needs. 

“Having MILA interested in this project, and having their team of scientists working on the machine learning, would be fantastic.  That would ensure that within two to three years, we would be able to put a proof of concept out there,” says Adriana. 

In the meantime, Adriana recently began a PhD with the QUT Centre for Data Science, continuing this work as part of the QUT School of Mathematical Sciences. 

“I am extremely grateful for all the support received through this journey. Convincing some of the greatest minds from across the globe to believe in this project and to spend their time in the fight against modern slavery is one of my proudest achievements,” says Adriana. 

“The beauty of this project is the interdisciplinary nature of the work we can do. The complex problem of modern slavery draws on law, human rights, economics, politics, but it is captivating to understand how we could use technology to fight against it,” says Adriana. 

Adriana will receive her award at an international awards ceremony held on the 17th March.  

More details and registration can be found here: https://ircai.org/ircai-ai-award-2021/ 

Media Contact: Tim Macuga, QUT Centre for Data Science, 07 3138 6741, timothy.macuga@qut.edu.au

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