UNESCO launches global consultation for ‘ethics of AI’ draft guidelines

15 Jul 2020

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To help build a draft resolution on how AI can be developed and deployed, UNESCO is seeking global policymakers and AI experts.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has said that there is an urgent need for a global instrument on the ethics of AI to ensure those who it is used by and used with are treated fairly and equally.

Now it has announced the launch of a global online consultation led by a group of 24 experts in AI charged with writing a first draft on a ‘Recommendation on the Ethics of AI’ document. It’s hoped that UNESCO member states would adopt its recommendations by November 2021, thereby becoming the first global normative instrument to address the developments and applications of AI.

If the recommendation is adopted, these nations will be invited to submit periodic reports every four years on the measures that they have adopted.

“It is crucial that as many people as possible take part in this consultation, so that voices from around the world can be heard during the drafting process for the first global normative instrument on the ethics of AI”, said Audrey Azoulay, director general of UNESCO.

First version of the draft online

The UN body said that for this global call it is seeking participation from decision-makers, the general public, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, media representatives, the private sector, the scientific community and all other interested stakeholders. Those interested must comment on the draft text before 31 July 2020.

The first version of the experts’ draft was published in April of this year. It discussed, among other topics, AI’s impact on the environment, low-income countries, and biases and inequalities both between and within countries.

It comes at a time when bias in AI has come under intense scrutiny after the discovery of thousands of racist and misogynistic terms in a much-cited database of 80m images. Abeba Birhane of University College Dublin and the SFI software research centre Lero, and UnifyID chief scientist Vinay Uday Prabhu published details of their discovery in a paper awaiting peer review.

Speaking of the discovery, Birhane urged the wider machine learning community to “pay close attention to the direct and indirect impact of our work on society, especially on vulnerable groups”.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic