GENEVA: The UN called on 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.”

‘Damage human lives’

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.

Discriminatory data

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The data sets themselves can be faulty, discriminatory or out of date, and thus contribute to rights violations, it warned.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.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021

Opinion

What a tangled web

What a tangled web

So poorly kept is this secret about the opposition’s real hopes and no plans that even the government has figured it out.
Climate threat over South Asia
Updated 26 Oct 2021

Climate threat over South Asia

Water shortages, drought, floods or landslides and tsunamis are not constrained by national boundaries.
Losing heritage
26 Oct 2021

Losing heritage

It’s not a good idea to turn Mohatta into a college.
The long impasse
Updated 25 Oct 2021

The long impasse

Management of Pakistan-India tensions is likely to remain the main focus of sporadic backchannel efforts.

Editorial

Perfect in every way
Updated 26 Oct 2021

Perfect in every way

GLORIOUS. Gratifying. Liberating. Pakistan’s thumping victory over India in their opening fixture of the T20 World...
26 Oct 2021

Balochistan CM’s exit

ON Sunday, Jam Kamal Khan Alyani’s name was added to the long list of chief ministers of Balochistan who ...
Minister’s odd logic
26 Oct 2021

Minister’s odd logic

THE government’s contradictions and confusion appear to have no end when it comes to dealing with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan.
25 Oct 2021

Party to a vile campaign

THE PTI government’s hostility towards the media and its intolerance for dissent is well known. The target of ...
Financial crisis
Updated 25 Oct 2021

Financial crisis

DESPITE having progressed to ‘very good step’ and being ‘close to concluding the agreement’ a few days back,...
25 Oct 2021

Morals and Pemra

TIME and again, Pemra has come under fire for issuing arbitrary instructions to TV channels on matters ranging from...