The U.N. is worried about artificial intelligence.
The Human Rights Chief of the United Nations has called for a moratorium on the use of artificial intelligence that could pose a substantial risk to human rights, including face-recognition systems that can track you in public, according to an initial report from the U.N. News service.
And, if nations don’t start developing effective safeguards now, the roll-out of AI applications in daily life could quickly become more harmful than helpful to the human condition.
Countries and businesses have rushed efforts to roll out AI
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also said that countries should explicitly ban all AI applications that run counter to human rights law, emphasizing that “social scoring” applications should not be enforced by governments, citing that these prejudicial systems divide human populations on the basis of ethnicity or gender. While she affirms the very real use-value for AI technologies in improving the human condition, Bachelet warned that they can also “have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” according to the statement.
Bachelet’s comments came amid a new U.N. report that reflected on the way countries and businesses have rushed their efforts in implementing AI systems that drastically affect the lives and livelihoods of ordinary citizens before ensuring the establishment of safeguards capable of meaningfully preventing discrimination, which can exclude people from homes, jobs, healthcare, and the basic dignity of human rights. “This is not about not having AI,” said Human Rights’ Office Director Peggy Hicks of thematic engagement during a Geneva presentation and reported by AP News. “It’s about recognizing that if AI is going to be used in these human rights — very critical — function areas, that it’s got to be done the right way.”
AI-based face recognition tech can undermine human rights
“And we simply haven’t yet put in place a framework that ensures that happens.” Bachelet didn’t advocate the ban of all facial recognition technology, but she stressed that governments need to stop scanning people’s features in real-time until these nations can prove that the technology is accurate, is discrimination-free, and meet specific privacy and data protection protocols. No nations were named in the U.N. report, but China’s rapid roll-out of facial recognition technology, especially for purposes of surveilling the western Xinjian region (where the country’s Uyghur minority population lives), is arguably of primary relevance to the virtual docket against anti-human applications of artificial intelligence.
The U.N. report’s authors decided not to name which countries outright, since doing so could prove counterproductive, and cause reactions that might pose risk to human rights. “In the Chinese context, as in other contexts, we are concerned about transparency and discriminatory applications that addresses particular communities,” said Hicks in the AP News report. Multiple court cases in Australia and the United States were sufficient to reveal the unethical implementation of AI. But the U.N. report also speaks warily about the tools designed to deduce people’s mental or emotional states by evaluating facial expressions or body movements, since these technologies are extremely susceptible to bias, and are misinterpretations lacking any underlying scientific grounding.
“The use of emotion recognition systems by public authorities, for instance for singling out individuals for police stops or arrests or to assess the veracity of statements during interrogations, risks undermining human rights, such as the rights to privacy, to liberty and to a fair trial,” read the report. While only time will tell how the nations of the world respond to this call, the outsized power wielded by major corporations in the U.S. and elsewhere would only be enhanced by AI-based facial recognition technology, if used to monitor, track, and enact policies on ordinary citizens. And, perhaps more worrying: anyone can use facial recognition.