Artificial Intelligence: UAE one of 193 countries to adopt global agreement on ethics

Historical text aims to ensure the healthy development of AI

A robot interacts with a woman at 'Speed Dating with AI - Meet the Robots at AI Days' at the Hammerbrooklyn Digital Campus in Germany. Photo: Axel Heimken / Getty
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Hundreds of nations have agreed to adopt common values and principles to ensure Artificial Intelligence is developed in an ethical fashion.

All 193 members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), including the UAE, adopted the historical text on Thursday.

The world needs rules for artificial intelligence to benefit humanity,
Audrey Azoulay

Artificial intelligence is now woven into the tapestry of nearly every element of the modern world, including banking, travel and transport.

But the technology is also bringing unprecedented challenges, said Unesco.

"We see increased gender and ethnic bias, significant threats to privacy, dignity and agency, dangers of mass surveillance, and increased use of unreliable AI technologies in law enforcement, to name a few.

"Until now, there were no universal standards to provide an answer to these issues."

The new agreement aims to guide the construction of the necessary legal infrastructure to ensure the ethical development of this technology, said Audrey Azoulay, director general of Unesco.

"The world needs rules for artificial intelligence to benefit humanity," she said.

"The 'Recommendation on the ethics of AI' is a major answer. It sets the first global normative framework while giving States the responsibility to apply it at their level.

"UNESCO will support its 193 Member States in its implementation and ask them to report regularly on their progress and practices."

Environmentally friendly AI

A robot plays the piano at the Apsara Conference, a cloud computing and artificial intelligence conference in Hangzhou, China. Photo: STR / AFP

The global agreement aims to provide a guide to ensure that digital transformation takes place without causing damage.

Nation states have agreed to ensure AI promotes human rights and contributes to the achievement of sustainable development goals, and to address the issues around transparency, accountability and privacy.

There are also action-oriented policy chapters in the agreement on data governance, education, culture, labour, healthcare and the economy.

One of its main calls is to safeguard data, going beyond what tech firms and governments are doing to guarantee individuals more protection by ensuring transparency, agency and control over their personal data.

The recommendation also explicitly bans the use of AI systems for social scoring and mass surveillance.

The text also attempts to ensure that AI will become a prominent tool in the fight against climate change and in tackling environmental issues.

In order to ensure this happens, those involved in developing AI should favour data, energy and resource-efficient methods, said Gabriela Ramos, Unesco’s assistant director general for social and human sciences.

"Decisions impacting millions of people should be fair, transparent and contestable," she said.

"These new technologies must help us address the major challenges in our world today, such as increased inequalities and the environmental crisis, and not deepening them."

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Updated: November 26, 2021, 12:32 PM