UNESCO’s expert group revises the draft text of the Recommendation on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence

UNESCO is virtually hosting the Second meeting of the Ad Hoc Expert Group to revise the draft text of the global recommendation on ethical issues raised by the development and application of AI, following the multi-stakeholder consultations, from 31 August to 4 September 2020.

During July and August, UNESCO convened a global public online consultation, along with eleven regional and sub-regional virtual consultations, to discuss the first draft text of the Recommendation. It sought feedback that addressed various local concerns to achieve a truly inclusive and pluralist normative instrument. The consultations strengthened regional partnerships, particularly in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, and provided a platform to raise further social, economic, and cultural implications of AI globally: from a data breach to hate speech and harassment; from gender bias to AI accountability; from human rights to education and climate change.

Addressing over 600 submissions and 50,000 suggestions – from policymakers, international organizations, civil society, media, private sector, academia, and the general public – twenty-four internationally renowned experts will re-examine ethical concerns in the emerging age of AI and draft appropriate revisions.

All voices will be heard. UNESCO wishes to produce an instrument that will include the voices of the Global South, young people, women, and other underrepresented groups, and contribute towards fundamental values that leave no one behind. The principles and policies, defined during this process, will be the universal and intergenerational reference, laying the ground for a common framework to ensure the prevalence of the rule of law on the Internet and in the wider digital world.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has further exposed AI vulnerabilities, digital divide, and disparity of opportunities. Developing countries are likely to experience more modest gains due to much lower rates of adoption of AI technologies, lack of ownership of such technologies, and often not being an active part in the design and development processes but rather recipients of technology. The economic gains will likely be strongest in China and North America, accounting for almost 70 per cent of AI’s global economic impact.
Lack of a comprehensive approach to AI-human interaction undermines our very existence, the way we learn, think and even make decisions. Exclusiveness and cultural hegemony in the design of AI systems and its potential benefits put vulnerable people further at risk.

The UNESCO Recommendation is thus of utter importance. It is a starting point to address such concerns as cultural representation, given limited resources of low- and middle-income countries, privacy and data protection, increased surveillance, racial prejudice, and increase of disinformation. The ultimate goal is to ensure that AI is developed and used in line with the principles of inclusiveness, diversity, and transparency.

Following the work of the expert group, a second draft will be prepared and submitted to UNESCO Member States for written comments in September. The Recommendation will then be revised during an intergovernmental process and presented for adoption at UNESCO’s 41st General Conference in November 2021.

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