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Towards the ethics of artificial intelligence


Artificial Intelligence: The New Frontier of Humanity

We stand at the dawn of a new era. The technological revolution is rapidly changing our lives, dramatically changing the ways we work, learn, and even live together. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is experiencing explosive growth and finding new applications in a growing number of sectors, including security, environment, research, education, health, culture and commerce along with the increasingly complex use of big data.

Towards the ethics of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is the new frontier of humanity. Once these borders are crossed, AI will lead to a new form of human civilization. The guiding principle of AI is not to become independent or replace human intelligence. But we must make sure that it is developed through a humane approach based on values ​​and human rights. We face a crucial question: What kind of society do we want tomorrow? The AI ​​revolution is opening up exciting new horizons, but the anthropological and social turmoil it brings in its wake requires careful consideration.

Huge opportunity for sustainable development

The transformations arising from the technological revolution, particularly from developments in artificial intelligence, are relevant to every aspect of the mandate of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Education is already being profoundly advanced by artificial intelligence. The tools for education—the way we learn, acquire knowledge, and train teachers—will soon no longer be the same. From now on, acquiring digital skills is at the heart of all our educational programmes. Moreover, we must “learn how to learn” because the speed of innovation is rapidly changing the labor market. 

Today, more than ever, the humanities, such as history, philosophy and literature, are critical to our ability to function in our rapidly changing world. AI is already being used extensively in the field of culture. For example, in the images used to reconstruct the heritage. It is used in science as well, particularly in our environmental programs and underwater research. Communication and information also depends directly on advances in artificial intelligence, especially with regard to freedom of expression and access to information.

AI can open huge opportunities for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its applications enable innovative solutions, improved risk assessment, better planning and faster knowledge sharing.

Addressing the challenges of artificial intelligence

While artificial intelligence represents an astonishing asset for responsible development in our societies, it also raises major ethical issues. How can we ensure that algorithms do not violate basic human rights from privacy and data confidentiality to freedom of choice and freedom of conscience? 

Can freedom of action be assured when our desires are foreseen and directed? How can we ensure that social and cultural stereotypes are not repeated in AI programs, particularly when it comes to gender discrimination? 

Can these circuits be repeated? Can values ​​be programmed, and by whom? How can we ensure accountability when decisions and actions are fully automated? How do we make sure that no one, wherever they are in the world, is deprived of the benefits of these technologies? How can we ensure that AI is developed in a transparent manner so that global citizens whose lives are affected by it have a say in its development?

To answer these questions, we must distinguish between the direct effects of AI on our societies, its already felt consequences, and its long-term repercussions. This requires that we collectively form a vision and a strategic action plan.

Creating a global dialogue on the ethics of artificial intelligence: the role of UNESCO

The world must ensure that new technologies, especially those based on artificial intelligence, are used for the benefit of our societies and their sustainable development. AI developments and applications must be regulated in accordance with the fundamental rights that shape our democratic horizon.

Many actors such as companies, research centres, academies of science, member states of the United Nations, international organizations and civil society associations advocate an ethical framework for the development of AI. As understanding of the issues increases, related initiatives need stronger coordination. This problem is global, and it must be thought of at a global level to avoid a "pick and pick" approach to ethics. Moreover, a comprehensive and global approach, with the participation of United Nations funds, agencies and programmes, is required if we are to find ways to harness AI for sustainable development.

UNESCO will be a full and active participant in this global conversation. Our organization has many years of experience in the ethics of science and technology. Our advisory bodies have already made several reports and announcements, including on robotics, such as the Global Committee on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology report on robot ethics in 2017. The advisory bodies also have experience developing normative tools, including the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights. Human Rights in 1997 and the Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights in 2005.

UNESCO's priorities should also guide our international work in this field. It is essential to ensure that Africa fully participates in AI-related transformations, not only as a beneficiary but also as a participant upstream, contributing directly to its development. In terms of gender equality, we must fight prejudices in our societies to ensure that they are not replicated in AI applications. Finally, we must empower young people by providing them with the skills they need for life in the twenty-first century to integrate into the changing job market.

UNESCO also plays a major role in bridging the existing gaps that artificial intelligence is likely to deepen. Eliminating the fragmentation between countries and races, as well as in terms of resources and knowledge, would enable more people to contribute to the ongoing digital transformation.

With its humanitarian mission and its international dimension, UNESCO, which includes researchers, philosophers, programmers, policy-makers, representatives of the private sector and civil society, is the natural setting for debate on these ethical issues. UNESCO will organize discussions on artificial intelligence in several regions of the world starting late this year, bringing together experts from a wide range of backgrounds and expertise. The first discussion, which took place in Marrakesh, Morocco, on December 12, 2018, focused on artificial intelligence and Africa. A second international conference will be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in the first half of 2019. This dialogue could eventually, with the agreement of Member States, identify key ethical principles to accompany developments in the field of AI.

As a global forum where everyone's voice is heard and respected, UNESCO is doing its part, enlightening the global debate on the major transformations of our time while setting out principles to ensure that technological progress is used in the service of the common good. The promise and ethical issues inherent in AI are remarkable, and our responses to these challenges will change the way we know the world.

Together, we must find the best solutions to ensure that the development of AI is an opportunity for humanity, as it is our generation's responsibility to transition to a more just, peaceful and prosperous society.

The UN Chronicle is not an official record. The opinions expressed by the individual authors, as well as the boundaries and names displayed and the designations used on the maps or articles, do not necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.