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Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights

Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights

In its Report entitled ‘Artificial Intelligence in the UK: Ready, willing and able?’, the House of Lords examines what our daily life looks like with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology available nowadays. The questions that, of course, regularly come to our mind include the following: What are the limits of AI? What are the opportunities and risks for each of us individually and collectively? Who holds our data, why, how and where? AI can be used to manipulate election results or breach privacy of data and there have been reports that AI might be discriminatory or biased in certain occasions. Ways to protect children and other vulnerable groups are thus crucial. Questions of security versus privacy arise. Proposed AI guidelines should therefore look at the impact on human rights, including privacy, dignity, consumer protection, non-discrimination and socio-economic rights. Because personal data is our most valuable asset, it ought to be protected against the next generation of crisis, the data crisis, which is potentially worse than the financial crisis.

It is true that the potential of AI technology is enormous for modern societies in terms of economy, jobs, health, crisis prevention and management, security, social care and well-being or even politics. It remains, however, that AI associated to big data has penetrated our daily lives profoundly, to the point that we lose control. As such, AI is usually perceived as a challenge or a threat to human rights and humankind more generally. It is therefore important to reflect upon what AI does for us and what we humans do to use it and control it.

As the problem is universal, the solution should be too. Some countries, groups of countries or regional blocs have taken the lead in the development of AI and big data while spending much time trying to delimit and secure associated rights. The European Union provides a good illustration of sustainable development in the field, based on the legacy of universal principles, human values and the spirit of the protection of human rights.

At first glance, the current landscape of the protection of human rights vis-à-vis AI and big data appears complex. The journey into the legal landscape of human rights starts at the international level, with the formulation of globally shared values and ideals of protection of human rights in the aftermath of the Second World War. Beyond fundamental principles, the United Nation Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 provides for rights protecting our privacy, family, home and our person. Basic fundamental rights and freedoms are also enshrined in equivalent European legal instruments, the European Convention for Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EU Charter, the main human rights instrument of the EU, contains a large number of provisions of relevance to the debate on AI and human rights. These are completed by the provisions of the EU Treaties and by specific instruments of EU legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As most people are now aware, the GDPR is directly applicable and effective in all Member States of the EU as of 25 May 2018. In a nutshell, the GDPR sets out principles relating to the processing of personal data in the EU and beyond if this data travels outside of the EU. The GDPR contains some very distinctive rights such as the right to information, the right of access by the data subject, the right to rectification, to object or the right to erasure or ‘right to be forgotten’. The European Courts are no stranger to this unique framework, with direct influence on rights newly created.

As time passes, the GDPR will be processed by all actors but the future lies ahead of us, as we try to apprehend and design it today, unavoidably through AI technology.


Info: Prof. Laulhé Shaelou is a certified Data Protection Officer. She participates to the SHERPA project under the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme, that investigates, analyses and synthesises our understanding of the ways in which smart information systems impact on ethics and human rights issues.


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