This makes a nice accompaniment to my commentary (December 3, 2021 posting) on the Nature of Things programme (telecast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), The Machine That Feels.
Here’s UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) November 25, 2021 press release making the announcement (also received via email),
UNESCO member states adopt the first ever global agreement [recommendation] on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence
Paris, 25 Nov  – Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO presented
Thursday the first ever global standard on the ethics of artificial
intelligence adopted by the member states of UNESCO at the General
This historical text defines the common values and principles which will
guide the construction of the necessary legal infrastructure to ensure
the healthy development of AI.
AI is pervasive, and enables many of our daily routines – booking
flights, steering driverless cars, and personalising our morning news
feeds. AI also supports the decision-making of governments and the
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
But the technology is also bringing new unprecedented challenges. We see
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. Until now,
there were no universal standards to provide an answer to these issues.
In 2018, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, launched an
ambitious project: to give the world an ethical framework for the use of
artificial intelligence. Three years later, thanks to the mobilization
of hundreds of experts from around the world and intense international
negotiations, the 193 UNESCO’s member states have just officially
adopted this ethical framework.
“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. UNESCO will support its 193
Member States in its implementation and ask them to report regularly on
their progress and practices”, said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General.
The content of the recommendation
The Recommendation [emphasis mine] aims to realize the advantages AI brings to society and reduce the risks it entails. It ensures that digital transformations
promote human rights and contribute to the achievement of the
Sustainable Development Goals, addressing issues around transparency,
accountability and privacy, with action-oriented policy chapters on data
governance, education, culture, labour, healthcare and the economy.
The Recommendation 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. It
states that individuals should all be able to access or even erase
records of their personal data. It also includes actions to improve data
protection and an individual’s knowledge of, and right to control,
their own data. It also increases the ability of regulatory bodies
around the world to enforce this.
*Banning social scoring and mass surveillance
The Recommendation explicitly bans the use of AI systems for social
scoring and mass surveillance. These types of technologies are very
invasive, they infringe on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and
they are used in a broad way. The Recommendation stresses that when
developing regulatory frameworks, Member States should consider that
ultimate responsibility and accountability must always lie with humans
and that AI technologies should not be given legal personality
*Helping to monitor and evalute
The Recommendation also sets the ground for tools that will assist in
its implementation. Ethical Impact Assessment is intended to help
countries and companies developing and deploying AI systems to assess
the impact of those systems on individuals, on society and on the
environment. Readiness Assessment Methodology helps Member States to
assess how ready they are in terms of legal and technical
infrastructure. This tool will assist in enhancing the institutional
capacity of countries and recommend appropriate measures to be taken in
order to ensure that ethics are implemented in practice. In addition,
the Recommendation encourages Member States to consider adding the role
of an independent AI Ethics Officer or some other mechanism to oversee
auditing and continuous monitoring efforts.
*Protecting the environment
The Recommendation emphasises that AI actors should favour data, energy
and resource-efficient AI methods that will help ensure that AI becomes
a more prominent tool in the fight against climate change and on
tackling environmental issues. The Recommendation asks governments to
assess the direct and indirect environmental impact throughout the AI
system life cycle. This includes its carbon footprint, energy
consumption and the environmental impact of raw material extraction for
supporting the manufacturing of AI technologies. It also aims at
reducing the environmental impact of AI systems and data
infrastructures. It incentivizes governments to invest in green tech,
and if there are disproportionate negative impact of AI systems on the
environment, the Recommendation instruct that they should not be used.
“Decisions impacting millions of people should be fair, transparent and contestable. These new technologies must help us address the major challenges in our world today, such as increased inequalities and the environmental crisis, and not deepening them.” said Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for Social and Human Sciences.
Emerging technologies such as AI have proven their immense capacity to
deliver for good. However, its negative impacts that are exacerbating an
already divided and unequal world, should be controlled. AI developments
should abide by the rule of law, avoiding harm, and ensuring that when
harm happens, accountability and redressal mechanisms are at hand for
If I read this properly (and it took me a little while), this is an agreement on the nature of the recommendations themselves and not an agreement to uphold them.
You can find more background information about the process for developing the framework outlined in the press release on the Recommendation on the ethics of artificial intelligence webpage. I was curious as to the composition of the Adhoc Expert Group (AHEG) for the Recommendation; they had varied representation from every continent. (FYI, The US and Mexico represented North America.)