By Alan Mills
As we enter 2022 thinking about what the future holds, one thing is for certain: artificial intelligence will be an important part of it.
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UNESCO presented the first ever global standard on the ethics of artificial intelligence adopted by the member states of UNESCO at the General Conference. This historical text defines the common values and principles which will guide the construction of the necessary legal infrastructure to ensure the healthy development of AI.
AI technologies are delivering remarkable results in highly specialized fields. They also help combat global problems like climate change and world hunger.
But the technology is also bringing new unprecedented challenges. We see increased dangers of mass surveillance, and increased use of unreliable AI technologies in law enforcement, to name a few. Until now, there were no universal standards to provide an answer to these issues.
In 2018, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, launched an ambitious project: to give the world an ethical framework for the use of artificial intelligence. Three years later, thanks to the mobilization of hundreds of experts from around the world and intense international negotiations, the 193 UNESCO’s member states have just officially adopted this ethical framework.
The Recommendation aims to realize the advantages AI brings to society and reduce the risks it entails. It ensures that digital transformations promote human rights and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, addressing issues around transparency, accountability and privacy, with action-oriented policy chapters on data governance, education, culture, labour, healthcare and the economy.
The Recommendation calls for action beyond what tech firms and governments are doing to guarantee individuals more protection by ensuring transparency, agency and control over their personal data. It states that individuals should all be able to access or even erase records of their personal data. It also includes actions to improve data protection and an individual’s knowledge of, and right to control, their own data. It also increases the ability of regulatory bodies around the world to enforce this.
The Recommendation explicitly bans the use of AI systems for social scoring and mass surveillance. These types of technologies are very invasive, they infringe on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and they are used in a broad way. The Recommendation stresses that when developing regulatory frameworks, Member States should consider that ultimate responsibility and accountability must always lie with humans and that AI technologies should not be given legal personality themselves.
The Recommendation sets the ground for tools that will assist in its implementation. Ethical Impact Assessment is intended to help countries and companies developing and deploying AI systems to assess the impact of those systems on individuals, on society and on the environment. This tool will assist in enhancing the institutional capacity of countries and recommend appropriate measures to be taken in order to ensure that ethics are implemented in practice. In addition, the Recommendation encourages Member States to consider adding the role of an independent AI Ethics Officer or some other mechanism to oversee auditing and continuous monitoring efforts.
The Recommendation emphasises that AI actors should favour data, energy and resource-efficient AI methods that will help ensure that AI becomes a more prominent tool in the fight against climate change and on tackling environmental issues. It asks governments to assess the direct and indirect environmental impact throughout the AI system life cycle. It incentivizes governments to invest in green tech, and if there are disproportionate negative impact of AI systems on the environment, the Recommendation instruct that they should not be used.