UN calls for ‘urgent’ action over AI’s risk to human rights

UN Assembly
UN calls for ‘urgent’ action over AI’s risk to human rights
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The United Nations’ (UN) head of human rights has called for all member states to put a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence systems.

UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet acknowledged that AI can be a “force for good” but that it could also have “negative, even catastrophic, effects” if the risks It poses are not addressed.

Bachelet’s comments come alongside a new report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The report analyses how AI affects people’s rights to privacy, health, education, freedom of movement, amongst other things.

“Artificial intelligence now reaches into almost every corner of our physical and mental lives and even emotional states. AI systems are used to determine who gets public services, decide who has a chance to be recruited for a job, and of course they affect what information people see and can share online,” Bachelet said.

Both the report and Bachelet’s comments follow the July revelations surrounding Pegasus spyware, which the UN rights chief described as part of the “unprecedented level of surveillance” being seen across the globe currently.

Bachelet insisted this situation is “incompatible” with human rights.

Now, in a similar vein, the OHCHR has turned its attention to AI.

According to the report, states and organisations often fail to carry out due diligence when rushing to build AI applications, leading to unjust treatment of individuals as a result of AI decision-making.

What’s more, data used to inform and guide AI systems can be faulty or discriminatory, and when stored for long periods of time could someday be exploited through yet unknown means.

“Given the rapid and continuous growth of AI, filling the immense accountability gap in how data is collected, stored, shared and used is one of the most urgent human rights questions we face,” Bachelet noted.

“The power of AI to serve people is undeniable, but so is AI’s ability to feed human rights violations at an enormous scale with virtually no visibility. Action is needed now to put human rights guardrails on the use of AI, for the good of all of us,” she stressed.

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