UNESCO has adopted an agreement defining the common values and principles needed to ensure the healthy development of artificial intelligence.
AI is present in everyday life, from booking flights and applying for loans to steering driverless cars. It is also used in specialized fields such as screening for cancer or creating inclusive environments for the disabled.
However, UNESCO warns that the technology “is bringing unprecedented challenges”.
“We see increased gender and ethnic bias, significant threats to privacy, dignity and agency, dangers of mass surveillance, and increased use of unreliable Artificial Intelligence technologies in law enforcement, to name a few. Until now, there were no universal standards to provide an answer to these issues”, UNESCO explained in a statement.
UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay explains that: “The world needs rules for artificial intelligence to benefit humanity. The Recommendation on the ethics of AI is a major answer. It sets the first global normative framework while giving States the responsibility to apply it at their level.”
One of its main calls is data protection, going beyond what tech firms and governments are doing to guarantee individuals more protection by ensuring transparency, agency and control over their personal data. The Recommendation also explicitly bans the use of AI systems for social scoring and mass surveillance.
Vahid Razavi, founder of the advocacy group Ethics in Tech (EIT), welcomed the guidelines.
“We’re at a critical juncture in history,” he told the Common Dreams website. “It’s like we invented the wheel but we don’t know what to transport on it. It’s a matter of guiding the future of AI to make sure that we don’t create a surveillance state, that we don’t create a state full of Amazon Ring technology, that we curb the use of facial recognition technology.”
“We need to make sure we don’t create a world where we have autonomous weapons,” Razavi added. “There’s a lot of harm that can be done with AI and so we need an ethical framework and we need as humans to come together and decide what is the best course of action to take with these technologies before they surpass us in their abilities.”