Stella Polaris is a Swedish hub where children’s rights and artificial intelligence (AI) meet for the purpose of encouraging, coordinating, and intensifying AI-related initiatives to fight child sexual abuse. By bringing together actors with a wide range of expertise we are accelerating the development and application of concrete AI-solutions. Stella Polaris is run by the World Childhood Foundation and is funded by the Swedish Postcode Lottery.
The Stella Polaris AI hub was launched in June 2021 as a Childhood project. The project has a funding of 4 years from the Postcode Lottery. During these years, we will create a hub to coordinate, encourage, and intensify AI-related initiatives within Sweden, with the aim of preventing child sexual abuse both online and offline. The idea was born after an expert meeting in 2019 where Childhood together with the Global Child Forum, at the initiative of the Queen, brought together leading experts in AI and child safety to discuss the role AI can play in protecting children from sexual abuse. Some conclusions from that meeting were that there are often technical opportunities to do more, that there are a number of AI solutions to protect children online, but they are not coordinated and those who need them most do not have access to them. It was also clear that there is a strong commitment and interest from other sectors to contribute more to protecting children from abuse. There is also great potential to make the work more effective through greater levels of collaboration between different sectors and expertise.
Why Did We Create Stella Polaris?
The scale of child sexual abuse is both massive and elusive. The internet enables criminals to coordinate in networks, facilitates the rapid dissemination of child sexual abuse material, and has created new ways of exploiting children. For example, perpetrators “request” specific serious child abuse via live streaming. Perpetrators use anonymity through encryption and online groups where their behavior is normalized, e.g., by sharing advice on how to commit abuse without being detected. Traditional efforts to prevent and detect child abuse have not made sufficient use of existing technological developments and know-how.
Today, AI tools exist that search the web for known child abuse images and can identify victims and perpetrators. However, these solutions are neither sufficient nor coordinated. It is difficult for police, civil society and researchers to keep up to date and understand how different tools complement each other. In addition, research and methodological developments in the field of AI have so far not been sufficiently used to prevent child sexual abuse. We also see a strong need to involve experts on issues such as trauma, sexual abuse and children's online behaviour in the development of new tools. Both to ensure that the tools will actually be useful and also to avoid them harming or restricting children's rights.
How Will Stella Polaris Work to Combat Child Sexual Abuse?
The AI hub's main target group is children who are at risk of being - or have already been - sexually abused. To support and empower children, knowledge and tools are also needed for parents and other important adults close to the child. We also want to explore solutions that can help those working to identify and help children who have been victimized.
The AI Hub will bring together actors who do not usually work together and whose expertise is needed to use technological advances to protect and empower children. We want to enable closer interaction between police, prosecutors and child rights actors on the one hand and AI experts, programmers, researchers and tech companies on the other. The AI hub's knowledge centre will also be accessible to students, researchers, and industry who want to approach the topic so that existing solutions can benefit more people and new development initiatives can build on what already exists. We want to continue to contribute to increased engagement and interest in the subject and an even stronger network of relevant actors. Through targeted actions, Stella Polaris can accelerate the development of concrete solutions to the most pressing challenges.
Although child abuse is a global problem, we believe there is untapped potential in creating local networks where people get to know each other well and can develop concrete solutions. This can be done without waiting to see what the big tech companies should do or what legislation needs to be changed. Our ambition is to create change with the resources available within Sweden's borders, but we will also use the broad international network we collectively possess both to continuously take in what is happening globally and to share the lessons from Stella Polaris.
What Can Stella Polaris Contribute With?
Stella Polaris has a number of overarching strategies to achieve our goal. We want to:
- contribute to a greater awareness and use of existing solutions by relevant stakeholders
- identify bottlenecks and problems in the work against sexual abuse where AI can be part of the solution
- inspire and engage actors skilled in AI in the work against child sexual abuse so that new research and developments in AI can be applied to these issues as well
- test and explore new AI-based solutions and tools
- contribute new knowledge through studies on issues where there is a lack of understanding or by gathering relevant expertise on a particular issue
- regularly invite to cross-sectoral meetings, seminars and events to establish an active network for knowledge sharing
The Project’s Structure and Resources
An advisory group with a wide range of expertise that can help us ensure that we focus on issues and development areas that address concrete challenges and complement the efforts already being made.
Working groups are short-term operational groups that can help Stella Polaris if needed. Their tasks may vary from researching a particular topic, to developing a prototype solution to move a project forward, or to help us with their specific knowledge. Working groups may consist of, for example, consultants, expert advisors or developers at companies, universities or organizations.
The Stella Polaris Knowledge Center will continuously collect reports, initiatives, research and other relevant information that can be helpful to actors in their efforts to prevent child sexual abuse.
In collaboration with other stakeholders, Stella Polaris can fund testing of relevant, interesting and promising new AI-solutions or development of AI-models. All testlab developments are following the key guiding principles of Stella Polaris and are - when possible - made open-source.
The networking arm of Stella Polaris, which enables different professionals to meet and share their expertise on an issue.
The steering group, responsible for over-arching decisions regarding the future of the project consists of the following members:
Cecilia Lundin, Board member, World Childhood Foundation Madeleine Linins-Mörner, Board member, World Childhood Foundation Paula Guillet de Monthoux, General Secretary World Childhood Foundation
Core Team The operational team working with networking, developing and communicating the Stella Polaris initiative consists of the following members: