IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2021 - 26

Opinion

realization of the 17 SDGs. AI has enormous potential to advance the SDGs, in the content and purpose
of its innovations, and through the process it adopts
to produce them, and so catalyze this global transformation. Harnessing the power of AI for the achievement of the SDGs could create a more equal world
where every person, whether a resident of HIC or
LMIC, can live in dignity and realize their potential.

Human rights framework for guiding AI
development to benefit humanity
In the early 21st century, the UN developed a
human rights-based approach (HRBA) to development [3], by which both the purpose and the process
for socio-economic development were firmly rooted
in human rights law. This law is expressed through
international treaties codifying political, civil, social,
economic, and cultural rights, and treaties protecting
the rights of certain populations: women, children,
indigenous people, workers, and people with disabilities. Every country in the world has ratified and transformed at least one of these treaties into national law;
most have ratified several. This means that all countries have established legal recourse for at least some
human rights.
The HRBA process for operationalizing these
rights, and the laws they rest upon, incorporates key
human rights principles:
*	 equality and nondiscrimination;
*	 participation of rights holders;
*	 accountability that includes responsibility, transparency, and remedy.
The HRBA to international development is suitable
not only to a pursuit of the SDGs which leaves no-one
behind, but to AI4Eq in which benefit to humanity
is catalyzed through an approach to AI-DDD which
applies the framework in a holistic manner. In this
way, AI applications respect the human rights provisions in ratified treaties, their developers take
measures to ensure that these applications promote
equality and do not discriminate against any group,
are designed and monitored through public participation, and provide for an accountability mechanism to
remedy any harms resulting from their use.
How can adopting an HRBA framework rooted
in law and operationalized through human rights

26

principles help ethical AI-DDD?2 Given that states
have already ratified some human rights treaties and
codified them in the national law, elements of AI regulation to protect the human rights of the population
and advance equity already exist. In addition, laws
are enforceable, while ethics are not.
With respect to the principle of equality and nondiscrimination, given the known risk that AI can
facilitate discrimination (particularly against minority and marginalized groups), and that unrepresentative data sets can skew machine learning and AI
decision-making, this first principle drives the analysis of an AI application to the question of who is
left behind in its benefits. Conscious and frequent
application of the human rights principle of nondiscrimination bring biases to light, so that AI-DDD
can address them before they do irrevocable harm
to the discriminated or marginalized segments of
the society.
Under human rights law, all people are entitled to
meaningful, informed participation in the decisions
that affect them and their rights. Through participation, rights-holders, including marginalized groups,
can hold public and private actors accountable for
the impact of AI on their well-being. However, given
the asymmetry of knowledge and power between
developers and users regarding, for example,
sources of training data, algorithms, and other proprietary information, conscious attention to meaningful participation calls on AI developers to address
an absence of platforms for the public review of pilot
applications. Developing such platforms enables
society to have input and oversight of a potentially
biased or harmful application before it is deployed,
and also to guide AI toward maximum social benefit.
The final operational principle in the human rights
framework for ethical AI is accountability. Accountability is the means through which rights are actually
realized and consists of three interdependent elements: responsibility-who/which institution has the
duty to respect, protect, and fulfill rights, and at what
standard; answerability-a formal process of transparency whereby the public can demand and receive
answers to questions about how those in authority
reached their decisions; and finally, enforceability-when human rights standards are violated and
2
While this commentary presents an HRBA framework grounded in the United
Nations' approach to development as a vehicle for AI4Eq, a focus on human rights
provisions and/or principles is present in academic articles, as well as in multilateral and civil society guidelines, although not always in the holistic manner of
HRBA. Some examples include [4]-[7].

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine



IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2021

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