UNESCO launched a guide to improve the relationship between humans and robots

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The 193 Unesco member countries, in collaboration with academics and representatives of companies such as Google and Facebook, drafted and disseminated a document that seeks optimize the relationship between humans and machines smart, sometimes strained, through a series of ethical recommendations for the development and use of these technologies.

Ethics and artificial intelligence: UNESCO responds to concerns

The Draft Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence -that is the title of the 30-page guide that Unesco published in the framework of its most recent general conference- proposes “Responsibly address the known and unknown effects of AI in humans, societies and the environment ”. It is compared to a universal statement but it is not legally binding. In addition to this, specialists assure that it is a “historical” text so that the design and application of such advances is not at odds with well-being and human rights.

The international organization hopes that the document will become a reference in the area, thus responding to the claims made in recent years experts and groups alarmed by the advance of the machines, of their possible mutation from assistants to enemies. Microsoft president Brad Smith in 2019 had demanded measures to control a possible robotic rebellion. On the occasion, the representative of the US company (which by the way participated in the writing of the new guide) said that “the safety of civilians is at risk” and that urgent action is needed, a ‘digital’ Geneva Convention to establish protection standards ”. Smith referred to an update of the Geneva Convention, a conclave that was held for the first time in 1864 in that city of Switzerland to establish ethical limits in warfare.

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The fears are not new: To mention one resounding case, businessman Elon Musk said that AI would be the lynchpin of the next world war.

The 5 axes of the guide on ethics in the development of artificial intelligence

  1. It is not legally binding, but UNESCO hopes that it will establish itself as a worldwide reference for the development and use of these technological advances. In addition, it is expected to unify other guides that address the same concerns.
  2. In addition to the disclosure of the document, the agency dependent on the United Nations promises periodic evaluations and that the member states report on their progress and activities in the area. The results will be examined by specialists and debated publicly. They promise transparency in the analysis and subsequent decisions.
  3. The guide demands the evaluation of the ethical implications derived from the human-machine bond, especially when it involves children. In that order, they warn that interaction with AI systems can eventually subject people to manipulations and have harmful effects on mental health.
  4. The text establishes the relevance of people are always informed about dealing with machines. The warning may be trivial in 2021, but it will become increasingly important as technology is able to perform previously exclusively human tasks. Meanwhile, they could confuse the unsuspecting about their mechanical condition.
  5. The guide also reviews aspects such as privacy and presence of biases (racial, gender, etc.) that derive from the use of these technologies. In this sense, it promotes the development of inclusive systems, in addition to technologies that are friendly to the environment.
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Artificial intelligence in real life: the uses that raise concern

  • About killer robots: In recent years we have witnessed autonomous weapons and, in parallel, warnings from groups that point out the risks posed by human non-responsibility in the use of these systems. At this point, Gabriela Ramos, Unesco’s deputy director general of Social and Human Sciences said in a statement that the guide states that “life and death decisions should not be made by AI methods”. In that order, it is indicated that “the last word must be human.”
  • About facial recognition: Another application of AI in the real world is face recognition, which is not only used in the private sphere (for example to unlock a cell phone) but also in public spaces. While the security forces point out that this technology is used to find fugitives from justice and monitor the streets; criticism accumulates due to discriminatory facial recognition biases, in addition to its high error rates. In this regard, the Unesco document states that “these systems should not be used for mass surveillance or accountability purposes.”
  • On the recommendations of the services of streamingAlthough at first glance this aspect has less dangerous consequences in relation to the two previous points, the guide also addresses them. Do the recommendations of platforms like Netflix and Spotify affect cultural diversity? In this regard, Unesco calls for work to be done for an evaluation and better application of the potentially harmful effects of these methods.

Finally, the document Draft Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence proposes that people get involved and take their share of responsibility through learning. “By educating a new generation of rights-conscious digital consumers with the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate the digital sphere, we will be empowering them to hold big tech to account and will be demanding that AI be developed in a way human and ethical ”, concluded Ramos.

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Where to consult the Unesco document?

The document (which you can access in this link) began to be written at the beginning of 2020 and in September of this year the first draft was presented, until its recent release after comments and observations. Experts representing Google, Facebook and Microsoft participated, as well as researchers from the US universities of New York, Stanford, and the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology.

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