Be it on genetic research, climate change, or scientific research, UNESCO has delivered global standards to maximize the benefits of the scientific discoveries, while minimizing the downside risks, ensuring they contribute to a more inclusive, sustainable, and peaceful world. It has also identified frontier challenges in areas such as the ethics of neurotechnology, on climate engineering, and the internet of things.The rapid rise in artificial intelligence (AI) has created many opportunities globally, from facilitating healthcare diagnoses to enabling human connections through social media and creating labour efficiencies through automated tasks.However, these rapid changes also raise profound ethical concerns. These arise from the potential AI systems have to embed biases, contribute to climate degradation, threaten human rights and more. Such risks associated with AI have already begun to compound on top of existing inequalities, resulting in further harm to already marginalised groups.
In no other field is the ethical compass more relevant than in artificial intelligence. These general-purpose technologies are re-shaping the way we work, interact, and live. The world is set to change at a pace not seen since the deployment of the printing press six centuries ago. AI technology brings major benefits in many areas, but without the ethical guardrails, it risks reproducing real world biases and discrimination, fueling divisions and threatening fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence
UNESCO produced the first-ever global standard on AI ethics – the ‘Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence’ in November 2021. This framework was adopted by all 193 Member States.
The protection of human rights and dignity is the cornerstone of the Recommendation, based on the advancement of fundamental principles such as transparency and fairness, always remembering the importance of human oversight of AI systems.
However, what makes the Recommendation exceptionally applicable are its extensive Policy Action Areas, which allow policymakers to translate the core values and principles into action with respect to data governance, environment and ecosystems, gender, education and research, and health and social wellbeing, among many other spheres.
Four core values
Central to the Recommendation are four core values which lay the foundations for AI systems that work for the good of humanity, individuals, societies and the environment:
1. Human rights and human dignity
Respect, protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms and human dignity
2. Living in peaceful just, and interconnected societies
3.Ensuring diversity and inclusiveness
4.Environment and ecosystem flourishing
A dynamic understanding of AI
The Recommendation interprets AI broadly as systems with the ability to process data in a way which resembles intelligent behaviour.
This is crucial as the rapid pace of technological change would quickly render any fixed, narrow definition outdated, and make future-proof policies infeasible.
A human rights approach to AI
Ten core principles lay out a human-rights centred approach to the Ethics of AI.
1. Proportionality and Do No Harm
The use of AI systems must not go beyond what is necessary to achieve a legitimate aim. Risk assessment should be used to prevent harms which may result from such uses.
2. Safety and Security
Unwanted harms (safety risks) as well as vulnerabilities to attack (security risks) should be avoided and addressed by AI actors.
3. Right to Privacy and Data Protection
Privacy must be protected and promoted throughout the AI lifecycle. Adequate data protection frameworks should also be established.
4. Multi-stakeholder and Adaptive Governance & Collaboration
International law & national sovereignty must be respected in the use of data. Additionally, participation of diverse stakeholders is necessary for inclusive approaches to AI governance.
5. Responsibility and Accountability
AI systems should be auditable and traceable. There should be oversight, impact assessment, audit and due diligence mechanisms in place to avoid conflicts with human rights norms and threats to environmental wellbeing.
6. Transparency and Explainability
The ethical deployment of AI systems depends on their transparency & explainability (T&E). The level of T&E should be appropriate to the context, as there may be tensions between T&E and other principles such as privacy, safety and security.
7. Human Oversight and Determination
Member States should ensure that AI systems do not displace ultimate human responsibility and accountability.
AI technologies should be assessed against their impacts on ‘sustainability’, understood as a set of constantly evolving goals including those set out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
9. Awareness & Literacy
Public understanding of AI and data should be promoted through open & accessible education, civic engagement, digital skills & AI ethics training, media & information literacy.
10. Fairness and Non-Discrimation
AI actors should promote social justice, fairness, and non-discrimination while taking an inclusive approach to ensure AI’s benefits are accessible to all.
Key policy areas make clear arenas where Member States can make strides towards responsible developments in AI
While values and principles are crucial to establishing a basis for any ethical AI framework, recent movements in AI ethics have emphasised the need to move beyond high-level principles and toward practical strategies.
The Recommendation does just this by setting out eleven key areas for policy actions.
Implementing the Recommendation
There is still a long way to go to provide Member States with actionable resources that ensure the effective implementation of the Recommendation. For this reason, UNESCO will develop two practical methodologies:
Readiness Assessment Methodology (RAM)
The RAM is designed to help assess whether Member States are prepared to effectively implement the Recommendation. It will help them identify their status of preparedness & provide a basis for UNESCO to custom-tailor its capacity-building support.
Ethical Impact Assessment (EIA)
EIA is a structured process which helps AI project teams, in collaboration with the affected communities, to identify & assess the impacts an AI system may have. It allows to reflect on its potential impact & to identify needed harm prevention actions.
UNESCO’s Women4Ethical AI is a new collaborative platform to support governments and companies’ efforts to ensure that women are represented equally in both the design and deployment of AI. The platform’s members will also contribute to the advancement of all the ethical provisions in the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI.
The platform unites 17 leading female experts from academia, civil society, the private sector and regulatory bodies, from around the world. They will share research and contribute to a repository of good practices. The platform will drive progress on non-discriminatory algorithms and data sources, and incentivize girls, women and under-represented groups to participate in AI.
Ibero-American Business Council for Ethics of AI
The Ibero-American Business Council for Ethics of AI is a collaborative initiative between UNESCO and companies operating in Latin America that are involved in the development or use of artificial intelligence (AI) in various sectors.
The Council serves as a platform for companies to come together, exchange experiences, and promote ethical practices within the AI industry. By working closely with UNESCO, it aims to ensure that AI is developed and utilized in a manner that respects human rights and upholds ethical standards.
Currently co-chaired by Microsoft and Telefonica, the Council is committed to strengthening technical capacities in ethics and AI, designing and implementing the Ethical Impact Assessment tool mandated by the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI, and contributing to the development of intelligent regional regulations. Through these efforts, it strives to create a competitive environment that benefits all stakeholders in Latin America and promotes the responsible and ethical use of AI.