The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, is calling for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence systems, which she says pose a serious risk to human rights.
The High Commissioner's report, which will be submitted to the U.N. human rights council, provides an analysis of how advances in digital technologies are affecting people's human rights.
The report argues that artificial intelligence, or AI, can be a force for good, but also can be overly intrusive and have negative, even catastrophic, effects on people's right to privacy and other human rights.
Peggy Hicks, director of thematic engagement at the U.N. Human Rights Office, says AI systems can be faulty and have embedded biases. These, she says, can lead to discrimination that might jeopardize job prospects or welfare and social security benefits.
She says there are numerous cases of people being treated unjustly because of the faulty use of AI in law enforcement, national security, and criminal justice and border management areas.
"We see AI being used for profiling and suspect identification," she said. "Biometric technology, such as facial recognition and emotional recognition, are being used, including remotely in real time to identify people — with documented cases of erroneous identification and disproportionate impact on certain groups, often minorities.”
The report notes biometric technologies increasingly are being used by governments, international organizations, and technology companies to identify people in real time and from a distance. This potentially allows unlimited tracking of individuals.
Hicks says the High Commissioner specifically recommends a moratorium on the use of remote biometric recognition technology in public spaces given the serious threats to public freedoms associated with such surveillance.
"Without immediate and far-reaching shifts and how we address AI deployment and development, the existing harms will multiply at scale and with speed," she said. "And the worst part of it is, we will not even know the extent of the problem because there is so little transparency around artificial intelligence and its use.”
U.N. rights chief Bachelet says there needs to be much greater transparency by companies and states in how they are developing and using AI. She says the power of AI to serve people is undeniable, but so is its ability to invade their privacy and violate human rights on an enormous scale and with virtually no visibility.