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UN urges moratorium on AI tech that threatens rights

Published : 15 Sep 2021 10:03 PM | Updated : 16 Sep 2021 12:34 PM

The UN called Wednesday for a moratorium  on artificial intelligence systems like facial recognition technology that  threaten human rights until "guardrails" are in place against violations. 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that "AI  technologies can have negative, even catastrophic effects if they are used  without sufficient regard to how they affect people's human rights." 

She called for assessments of how great a risk various AI technologies  pose to things like rights to privacy and freedom of movement and of 

expression. She said countries should ban or heavily regulate the ones that pose the  greatest threats.  But while such assessments are under way, she said that "states should 

place moratoriums on the use of potentially high-risk technology". Presenting a fresh report on the issue, she pointed to the use of  profiling and automated decision-making technologies. She acknowledged that "the power of AI to serve people is undeniable." 

   "But so is AI's ability to feed human rights violations at an enormous  scale with virtually no visibility," she said.  "Action is needed now to put human rights guardrails on the use of AI, for  the good of all of us." 

   The report, which was called for by the UN Human Rights Council, looked at  how countries and businesses have often hastily implemented AI technologies  without properly evaluating how they work and what impact they will have. 

   The report found that AI systems are used to determine who has access to  public services, job recruitment and impact what information people see and  can share online, Bachelet said. Faulty AI tools have led to people being unfairly denied social security 

benefits, while innocent people have been arrested due to flawed facial  recognition. 

   "The risk of discrimination linked to AI-driven decisions -- decisions that can change, define or damage human lives -- is all too real," Bachelet 

said. The report highlighted how AI systems rely on large data sets, with  information about people collected, shared, merged and analysed in often  opaque ways. The data sets themselves can be faulty, discriminatory or out of date, and 

thus contribute to rights violations, it warned.  For instance, they can erroneously flag an individual as a likely  terrorist. 

   The report raised particular concern about the increasing use of AI by law   enforcement, including as forecasting tools. 

   When AI and algorithms use biased historical data, their profiling  predictions will reflect that, for instance by ordering increased deployments 

to communities already identified, rightly or wrongly, as high-crime zones. Remote real-time facial recognition is also increasingly deployed by 

authorities across the globe, the report said, potentially allowing the  unlimited tracking of individuals. Such "remote biometric recognition technologies" should not be used in  public spaces until authorities prove they comply with privacy and data protection standards and do not have significant accuracy or discriminatory  issues, it said. "We cannot afford to continue playing catch-up regarding AI -- allowing 

its use with limited or no boundaries or oversight, and dealing with the  almost inevitable human rights consequences after the fact," Bachelet said.