Friday 26th November, 2021 - Bruce Sterling

*Everybody agreed, so it probably doesn’t say much.

*Also, the USA is not a member of UNESCO.

Via. AI: Decoded, brought to you every Wednesday by Melissa Heikkilä, POLITICO’s AI Correspondent in London.


A world first: Yesterday, 193 countries adopted UNESCO’s recommendation on AI ethics.

AI: Decoded spoke with Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO’s assistant director general for social and human sciences, who has led the organization’s AI effort.

What’s in the recommendation: The 28-page-long recommendation has some red lines, such as a call to ban social scoring and the use of AI for mass surveillance. The recommendation also suggests that AI developers should conduct ethical impact assessments and that governments put in place “strong enforcement mechanisms and remedial actions, to make certain that human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are respected in the digital world and in the physical world.”

There are also some calls for specific themes like gender, education, culture and the environment. Countries should for example dedicate public funds to promote diversity in tech, protect indigenous communities and monitor the carbon footprint of AI technologies, such as large language models.

Changing the AI biz: The recommendation is “the code to change the [AI sector’s] business model, more than anything,” Ramos said. “It is time for the governments to reassert their role to have good quality regulations, and incentivize the good use of AI and diminish the bad use,” she added.

Just don’t do it: The UNESCO recommendation also has a message for the EU, which is currently working on the world’s first AI bill. “Whenever you are not certain that the development of certain technologies is going to have a negative impact but you assume that they might — don’t do it. It’s as simple as that,” Ramos said. She expects the recommendation — which has been approved by all of the EU’s member countries — to influence negotiations in Brussels too. Many of UNESCO’s recommendations, such as having red lines and introducing redress mechanisms, are something that the European Parliament is already actively pushing.

Achilles’ heel: It remains to be seen if the UNESCO recommendation will have much bite. The U.S., home to the world’s biggest AI companies, is not part of UNESCO and not a signatory. Meanwhile China, creator of the much-dreaded social scoring system, has signed off on a recommendation that calls for the end of such a scoring system and of AI-powered mass surveillance. (I guess it helps that the recommendation is voluntary.) The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, Ramos said, adding that the fact that Russia and China want to engage is a good sign. “At the end, we need to be [held] accountable. And sometimes it’s even difficult to look into accountability and responsibility in the digital world,” Ramos said.
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