Global Governance of Artificial Intelligence: Lessons from Digital Inequality and Intersectionality Research

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described digitalisation as one of two seismic shifts that will shape the 21st century, the other being climate change. He has cautioned that both will widen inequalities even further unless urgently addressed on a planetary scale. Analysis of the digitalisation experiences and outcomes for different countries and different population segments within countries confirms a digital inequality paradox. That is, despite the hype around the equalising potential of digitalisation, digital technologies have instead exacerbated existing inequalities. As digitalisation accelerates, accompanied by the application and adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI), there is a critical risk that this increasing trend in inequality will continue to a point beyond repair.

With AI being dependent on the processing of vast amounts of real-world data, it will naturally reflect the state of the real world, thereby carrying forward underlying structural inequalities into the digital economy. This tendency would further compound the structural inequalities, creating ripple effects as the inequalities are again reflected back into the digital economy in a vicious cycle. There is a need for global policy intervention to address underlying structural inequalities when deploying new technologies. To achieve this, policies and regulations can look beyond the systems and algorithms which determine access, to examine material conditions.

This document is part of our submission responding to the UN Tech envoy’s call for papers on the Global Governance of AI. It speaks to the challenges of inequalities of internet access, which is a major underlying issue in the realisation of data justice.