Designing a Rights-Based Global Index on Responsible AI

Rachel Adams

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a wicked problem facing society globally. It is wicked because it is complex and hard to define as a policy concern. How is it being used, and who must – who can? – take responsibility for ensuring it is used to better society? As it increasingly moves to becoming a general purpose technology, it cannot be isolated from the social and economic conditions in which it is produced and used; in fact, it is changing the very nature of societies and economies, demanding new kinds of research and policy interventions in order to understand and manage its effects (Coyle, 2021). What makes AI more complex is the paradox it is bound up in: this technology that offers major transformative potential for societies in its capacity to compute great swathes of information, at an efficiency rate far greater than any human mind, comes with major risk to fundamental rights and values. Evidence has demonstrated that even the most legitimate uses of AI have caused harm to people and their societies and environments (Pizzi, Romanoff & Engelhardt, 2021). To add to this, we do not yet know the full implications or impacts that AI is having, or will have, on different societies around the world.

In response, frameworks have been developed that set out core ethical principles to be upheld as the technology is designed, developed, used, and evaluated. These ethical principles reflect some of the core values of human society considered to be threatened by AI, such as: who is to be held accountable for the harms it may cause, or how can we ensure we know enough about how an AI is working to be able to isolate the cause of its harmful effects? The OECD’s Principles on Artificial Intelligence, adopted in 2019, have been a particularly important framework in this regard. In late 2021, a major milestone for the international community was reached when the UNESCO Recommendation on Ethics in AI (UNESCO Recommendation) was unanimously adopted by all 193 member states. This constitutes a major breakthrough in AI ethics: the UNESCO Recommendation delivers a broad framework for how AI is to be developed and used in betterment of human society in different contexts around the world, offering the first global instrument of its kind and emphasizing the importance of diversity and cultural context in the application of its provisions.

As we move forward in deepening our collective understanding of how AI is reshaping our societies, and what policy models are required to best manage its effects in service of human and planetary wellbeing, information is needed on the global state of implementation of the UNESCO principles and the barriers countries are facing in protecting people from risks to human rights and democratic freedoms AI may bring. This is the premise for the new Global Index on Responsible AI (Global Index).

Suggested citation

Adams, R. (2022). Designing a Rights-Based Global Index on Responsible AI. Research ICT Africa.