AI (or Artificial Intelligence) is no longer a sci-fi fantasy. It’s turned into a multi-billion-dollar industry that has helped us make incredible advancements to civilization.
And we don’t have to go far back in history to see just how much we’ve benefited. Thanks to AI, scientists worldwide were able to create record-breakingly quick vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic, saving millions of lives.
AI is also great for other medical screening processes, understanding economic trends, and helping us fight the battle against climate change.
But as with everything, there are two sides to the coin, and the bad side of AI is ugly.
AI, if left unchecked, can result in a state of mass surveillance and social scoring that will allow prejudice and loss of privacy to prevail.
What Are AI Ethics?
Artificial intelligence ethics are a method to mitigate the misuse of AI to help protect individuals from bad actors wishing to use this life-changing technology to cause harm or for unethical personal gain.
In 2018, the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, embarked on a mission to create standardized guidance for AI use that could be implemented across the 193 member states of UNESCO to bring everyone together into the future of technology in a fair, equal manner.
Being such a young industry that by nature is constantly evolving, the introduction of global standards of AI ethics shows a dedication by world leaders to protect citizens from the negative impacts of AI while extracting the beneficial uses to better the planet.
The Four UNESCO Global Standards for AI Ethics
Following three years of research among the leaders in AI technology, UNESCO has finally positioned itself to release its four-part global guidance on AI ethics. Here is how the standards are structured.
1. Protecting Data
The first UNESCO global standard for AI ethics is about protecting citizen data. The main driving force that drives AI is data collection. The more data you can feed an AI operating machine, the more information it will learn, making the algorithm better attuned to its purpose.
As much as a company may benefit from having your private data for their AI algorithm, they do not own that data, and therefore they have no right to it.
Some companies have stolen data from their users to feed into algorithms in the past, resulting in severe data breaches, security, or transparency.
The global artificial ethics standard wants to put the power back into the hands of each individual. They insist that all individuals should have the right to know what data is being collected about them, access to view said data, and have it completely deleted from a database if they wish so.
This transparency in data collection will allow everyone to feel more comfortable about the increased use of AI in everyday tasks such as using our phones or going to the doctor’s office.
2. Banning Social Scoring and Mass Surveillance
The highly revered television show Black Mirror highlighted the severe and disastrous consequences of a world where there is mass surveillance and a world where your “social scoring” dictates what you have access to, including housing and shopping.
Although this is purely fictional, it’s a real possibility if AI is left unchecked. In China, they have been trialing a social scoring system where you can reportedly be punished for “offenses” such as buying too many video games or spending your money frivolously. These punishments include slow internet access, travel bans, and denying access to luxury hotel options.
To avoid this becoming the norm worldwide, UNESCO has recommended that AI must not be used to infringe on a person’s private life and that any such actions by artificial intelligence operations are ultimately the fault of the human(s) operating it.
3. Aiding in Monitoring and Evaluating
Given that AI is still a relatively new addition to life, UNESCO has made it a part of their AI ethics standards to carry out consistent checks on how AI is being used to ensure it is not abused.
The Ethical Impact Assessment will monitor how AI is impacting people’s lives and whether or not it is causing harm to people or infringing on their civil liberties.
The Readiness Assessment Methodology is a test by UNESCO to assess how prepared each member state is to incorporate AI ethics standards, including the strength of their legal and technical infrastructure. UNESCO has expressed its commitment to help any member states that need support implementing these AI ethics.
4. Environment Protection
An often-overlooked element of new technology is its impact on the environment, especially as it relates to climate change. As AI is not directly burning fossil fuels or releasing toxic gas into the atmosphere, it’s easy for people to overlook the potential environmental damage of technology.
We have already seen this with the recent boom in cryptocurrency and NFTs, where the infrastructure needed to support the technology is using alarmingly high energy consumption levels.
We also need to consider the impact of the raw materials required to create the technology and its overall carbon footprint.
For this reason, UNESCO has stressed the importance of developing “green tech” that is sustainable so that we can continue to develop AI without further harming our fragile planet.
Artificial Intelligence legislation is a Step in the Right Direction
This AI Ethics global standards initiative by UNESCO shows world leaders and pioneers’ deep interest in striving for a better balance in technology advancement, so we can all enjoy it safely.
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