Huridocs: That’s why the NGO got $ 1 million from Google

Last year, Google called for proposals based on AI to address social, environmental and humanitarian challenges. The Impact Challenge, which was launched as part of Google’s “AI for Social Good” initiative, was targeted at clubs, research organizations and social enterprises. More than 2,600 applications from 119 countries were received by Google, 40 percent of which came from companies with no prior knowledge of AI.

Google tested the ideas for feasibility, impact potential, scalability and responsible use of AI. Now the technology giant has announced the 20 winners, including the Geneva-based NGO Huridocs – Human Rights Information and Documentation Systems.

LEAD spoke with managing director Friedhelm Weinberg and with Natalie Widmann, project manager and expert in machine learning.


LEAD: Huridoc’s vision is that human rights movements exploit the full potential of information and technology …

Weinberg: Exactly. We were founded in 1982, when more than 100 human rights defenders came together because they saw securing and using information as essential for the protection of human rights. This and the often difficult work of our partners around the world inspires us to this day – even though the field of data and technology has changed incredibly in almost four decades.

LEAD: And you want to support these organizations with technical innovations?

Weinberg: We work with human rights organizations worldwide to use information effectively, smartly and securely. Our partners represent victims of human rights violations in court, engage in normative improvements at the United Nations, and run campaigns to make situations of threatened groups visible. For this they need credible information that they can safely manage and from which they can gain new insights.

LEAD: How exactly can your organization help?

Widmann: Huridocs supports human rights organizations with advice, technology development and access to public information. We use methods of natural language processing and machine learning to search and analyze, for example, United Nations judgments or United Nations resolutions on issues, the voting practices of individual countries or judges involved.

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“We work in a sector that is rich in commitment and passion, but in which the dangers and structures are different.”

LEAD: Where are the challenges?

Weinberg: It is important to us to work closely with our partners, their ideas, but also their problems are what drives us. At the same time they demand – rightly so – that as experts at the interface of human rights and technology, we not only ask questions, but present solutions. How we really co-create is the most exciting, but also the hardest part of our job.

LEAD: Now human rights organizations are not part of the normal customer base …

Weinberg: We work in a sector that is rich in commitment and passion, but where the dangers and the structures are different. This requires empathy, political sensitivity and sometimes patience – but by no means a less professional approach.

LEAD: How will Huridocs use Google’s $ 1 million cash prize?

Weinberg: In particular, we will work towards machine learning with the aim of making publicly available information truly accessible. This means that we will read out data from documents – for example, from international court decisions – and make it easier to find.

LEAD: Why is that necessary?

Widmann: Some of our partners spend hours categorizing a document, extracting relevant information from it, or creating links between judgments and the laws they refer to. With the “Google AI Impact Challenge” project, we want to use machine learning techniques to facilitate this work for human rights organizations. For example, metadata can be automatically extracted, similar and relevant documents proposed, or topics recognized.

LEAD: To what extent is artificial intelligence indispensable?

Widmann: The algorithms not only help to filter out information from documents, but also form the technical basis for collaboration between organizations. We will bring together international human rights organizations and institutions to create new opportunities and collaborations for the exchange of knowledge and data.

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About the Uwazi project by Huridocs

Uwazi is an open source tool that Huridocs has been working on for over three years. With the AI ​​Impact Challenge, the organization wants to develop techniques that they want to make available as features in Uwazi as well – especially so that not so techno-crazy human rights defenders can use the potential.

About the Impact Challenge

In addition to the $ 1 million in funding, Huridocs will also have the opportunity to leverage Google Cloud credit and consulting and coaching from Google’s AI experts. In addition, all 20 winners can participate in a six-month program from the Google Developers Launchpad.

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