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UNESCO Recommendation on AI ethics

UNESCO Recommendation on AI ethics

UNESCO Recommendation on AI ethics has been agreed upon by Member States. 


The Member States of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have agreed on the draft text of a recommendation on the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). Representatives of the Intergovernmental special committee of technical and legal experts met in April and June this year to examine the draft text of the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The initial draft of this document was shared with Representatives from Member States in September 2020. The committee then met in April and June to compose the draft Recommendation, which is well on its way to becoming the first of its kind- a global framework for AI ethics. The final draft will be submitted to Member States for the adoption by the General Conference of UNESCO 41st session in November. 


A Recommendation was composed addressing ethical issues in AI as far as they are mandated by UNESCO. The approach taken with Artificial Intelligence is from a holistic, comprehensive, multicultural and evolving perspective. The aim is to aid in dealing with AI technologies responsibly, including both the known and unknown aspects of the technology. The document defines AI as “information-processing technologies that integrate models and algorithms that produce a capacity to learn and to perform cognitive tasks leading to outcomes such as prediction and decision-making in material and virtual environments.” The Recommendation focuses on the broader ethical implications of AI systems relating to the general arena of UNESCO. This would include education, science, culture, and communication and information. 


The UNESCO Recommendation for AI ethics aims to provide a framework for guiding the various stages of the AI system life cycle to promote human rights. 


The aim of the UNESCO Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence is to influence the actions of individuals, groups, communities, private companies and institutions to ensure that ethics rest at the heart of AI. The Recommendation seeks to foster dialogue and consensus building dialogue on issues relating to AI ethics on a multidisciplinary, and multi-stakeholder level. This universal framework of values, principles and actions is aimed at protecting, promoting and respecting human rights and freedoms, equality, human dignity, gender equality, cultural diversity and preserving the environment, during each stage of the AI system life cycle. The Recommendation is packed with values and principles to be upheld by all actors in the field of AI, throughout the life cycle of the AI technology. Values play a major role as motivating ideals in the shipping of policy, legal norms and actions. These values are based on the recognition that the trustworthiness and integrity of the lifecycle of AI systems is essential and ensuring that these technologies will work for the good of all humanity.


The Recommendation includes a compilation of values considered to be apt at accomplishing the ethical standard for AI set out by UNESCO. 


The UNESCO Recommendation for AI ethics is built on the values of respect, protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms based on the inherent dignity of every human , regardless of race, color, descent, age, gender, language, economic or social condition of birth, disability or any other grounds. It also states that environmental and ecosystem flourishing should be recognized, promoted and protected throughout the entire lifecycle of AI systems. The Recommendation aims to ensure diversity and inclusiveness, living in peaceful, just and interconnected societies.


The document also outlines several principles under which AI technologies should operate, at every stage in their life cycle. 


Similar to the guidelines for trustworthy AI by the High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence (AI HLEG), UNESCO has outlined principles under which trustworthy AI should function. Principles like proportionality, safety, security, sustainability and the right to privacy and data protection are all explained in depth, guiding how AI should function worldwide. The Recommendation states clearly that it must always be possible to attribute legal and ethical responsibility to any stage of the AI system life cycle. The principles of transparency, explainability, responsibility, accountability, human oversight and determination are at the core of this Recommendation with specific mention of multi-stakeholder and adaptive governance and collaboration. Adaptive governance and collaboration ensures that States comply with international law while regulating the data passing through their territories. 


The UNESCO Recommendation for AI ethics goes on to guide policy areas to operationalize the values and principles that it sets out. 


The Recommendation encourages Member States to establish effective measures to ensure that other stakeholders uphold the values and principles of ethical AI technology. UNESCO, recognizing that various Member States will be at various stages of readiness to implement this recommendation, will develop a readiness assessment methodology to help Member States identify their status. The Recommendation suggests that all Member States should introduce frameworks for impact assessments to identify and assess benefits, concerns and risks of AI systems. In addition, Member States should ensure that AI governance procedures are inclusive, transparent, multidisciplinary, multilateral and multi-stakeholder. Governance should ensure that any harms caused through AI systems are investigated and redressed, through the enactment of strong enforcement mechanisms and remedial actions. Data policy, as well as international cooperation are also extremely important to this global framework. The Recommendation suggests how Member States should assess the direct and indirect impact of AI systems, at every point in their life cycle, on the environment and ecosystems. It also upholds that policies surrounding digital technologies and AI should contribute to fully achieving gender equality, the preservation of culture, education and research, as well the improvement of access to information and knowledge. The Recommendation also makes specific mention of how Member States should ensure the preservation of health and well-being through ethical AI use and practices.


“The proposal for a Regulation laying down harmonised rules on AI published by the European Commission on April 2021 and this Recommendation on AI ethics elaborated by the UNESCO show the institutions’ interest on regulating AI, both at European and global levels. Businesses using AI now have an opportunity to adapt their systems and practices in order to be ready before the framework becomes mandatory”, points out Cristina Contero Almagro, Aphaia’s Partner. 

Do you use AI in your organisation and need help ensuring compliance with AI regulations? We can help you. Aphaia provides both GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018 consultancy services, including Data Protection Impact Assessments, AI Ethics Assessments and Data Protection Officer outsourcing. We can help your company get on track towards full compliance. Contact us today.

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