We know the impact of a rapidly spreading and mutating virus on the world, but we also know for a fact that technology is changing just as quickly. From the Turing Test in the 1960s to test machine intelligence and through to the Artificial Intelligence (AI) era, technology has become a ubiquitous impact on human life today. This trend will only increase as we enter the age of quantum computing, which can expand both our consciousness and the machine’s ability to interpret it. For this reason we need to examine how technology intersects with ethics and human rights; and discuss how responsible technology can help protect it.
Advances in technology can create certain vulnerabilities that can lead to unfavorable results. For example, tracking technologies that aim to contain the spread of Covid-19 can be misused for surveillance activities that can violate the right to privacy. We need to use the same technologies to promote greater security, inclusion, participation and socio-economic development. The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) place a special focus on strengthening human rights, and we need to use technology responsibly to achieve these goals. Let’s look at how new technologies can help us achieve them.
AI and data analysis to strengthen the rights to equality and work
Artificial intelligence and big data analytics can help governments and other stakeholders make effective policies and decisions by identifying and mitigating pre-existing biases. This can help improve procedural justice and equal treatment. AI and data analysis can help identify bias patterns in communities based on factors such as race, age, and gender. Easier collection and breakdown of data – using these technologies – can help ensure fair service delivery to all people within a community.
At workplaces, AI-powered speech detectors can filter out biased language in job descriptions and also help reduce bias in hiring processes – and promote the right to fair and decent work. AI-based solutions can also mitigate issues related to unfair performance reviews, payment gaps, and unfair promotion decisions in the workplace.
IoT and blockchain to protect human rights related to personal safety
IoT (Internet of Things) powered wearables can increase personal safety by monitoring a person’s critical health. These devices can be designed to send instant notifications when someone’s safety is compromised, providing timely assistance in saving lives. In addition, we can proactively use the forecasting and monitoring functions of such technologies to ensure long-term sustainable protection of rights, welfare and security.
5G could improve monitoring capabilities and help provide more precise geolocation data from IoT devices. Drones can be used to better predict crops and help farmers generate higher incomes. Blockchain technology can increase the traceability and transparency of payments to protect people from fraudulent activity. Strong encryption, anonymity and digital security tools can help protect the safety of people online and promote freedom of expression – especially for vulnerable populations and human rights defenders.
Assistive technologies and edtech to promote service accessibility and the right to education
People with different skills tend to have fewer opportunities for education and employment. Assistive technologies (ATs), such as speech recognition, screen readers, and visual search engines, can improve the accessibility of services to them. In education, edtech platforms can provide quality education by educating more people around the world. In rural areas, the availability of affordable network connectivity can help people gain access to such platforms and a wide range of services. AI-powered translation services can provide local language education that can expand the reach of educational services and make them more inclusive. 5G can play an important role in closing this gap and ensuring connectivity on the last mile.
Humane Tech – the next era of human rights and technology
The coming era will go beyond the usual physical manifestations of self-driving cars, flying taxis, and holographic projections, and see a merging of human consciousness with quantum AI consciousness. We are on the threshold of this transition and it is imperative to anchor ethical principles in the technology lifecycle.
Exchanging sensitive health information with chatbots, for example, requires careful attention and thought in order to encourage responsible healthcare practices. Chatbots’ RESET framework (an initiative of the World Economic Forum) is an example of how ethical principles can be incorporated into solution design. The framework carefully selects from AI and healthcare ethics principles and interprets them in the context of the use of chatbots in healthcare. In addition, measures are operationalized for each principle so that healthcare providers can integrate measures from the framework into their work processes in order to promote responsible use.
Also, to develop human-centered solutions, technology companies need to consider people with expertise from multiple disciplines. This can help in decision-making and in shaping approaches that incorporate human rights into the development and use of new technologies.
The author is the MD and CEO of Tech Mahindra