By Faith Atieno

The 41st session of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] General Conference saw the adoption of key agreements demonstrating renewed multilateral cooperation for educational recovery, open science and the ethics of artificial intelligence.

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO presented the first ever global Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence adopted by the 193 member states of UNESCO at the General Conference.

Artificial Intelligence -AI, is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks usually done by humans because they require human intelligence and discernment, such as speech recognition, supports decision making of government and private sectors, booking flights, translation between languages, among others.

The Recommendation framework on AI defines the common values and principles which will guide the construction of the necessary legal infrastructure to ensure the healthy development of AI.

According to a press release by UNESCO, AI technologies are delivering remarkable results in highly specialized fields such as cancer screening and building inclusive environments for people with disabilities.

They also help combat global problems like climate change and world hunger, and help reduce poverty by optimizing economic aid.

However, the technology is also bringing new unprecedented challenges such as increased gender and ethnic bias, significant threats to privacy, dignity and agency, dangers of mass surveillance, and increased use of unreliable AI technologies in law enforcement, to name a few.

Unfortunately, until now, there were no universal standards to provide an answer to these issues.

“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,” said Azoulay.

In reference to UNESCO’s press statement, the framework aims to realize the advantages AI brings to society and reduce the risks it entails while it ensures that digital transformations promote human rights and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Furthermore, it seeks to address issues around transparency, accountability and privacy, with action-oriented policy chapters on data governance, education, culture, labour, healthcare and the economy.

The recommendation draft 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 by stating that individuals should all be able to access or even erase records of their personal data.

Additionally, it includes actions to improve data protection and an individual’s knowledge of, and right to control, their own data and increases the ability of regulatory bodies around the world to enforce this.

Besides, the draft explicitly bans the use of AI systems for social scoring and mass surveillance. Terming them to be very invasive, infringing on human rights and fundamental freedom. Notably, it stresses that ultimate responsibility and accountability must always lie with humans and that AI technologies should not be given legal personality themselves.

Again, in relation to climate action, the Recommendation emphasizes that AI actors should favour data, energy and resource-efficient methods that will help ensure that it 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 including its carbon footprint, energy consumption

To ensure the success of the launched Recommendation framework, UNESCO pledged to support its 193 Member States in its implementation and ask them to report regularly on their progress and practices.