Technology & Human Rights

Examining how technological advancements affect the future of human rights.

While recognizing the enormous progress that societies have made since the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, technological advancements have inevitably profound implications for the human rights framework.

From a practical perspective, technology can help move the human rights agenda forward. For instance, the use of satellite data can monitor the flow of displaced people; artificial intelligence can assist with image recognition to gather data on rights abuses; and the use of forensic technology can reconstruct crime scenes and hold perpetrators accountable. Yet for the multitude of areas in which emerging technologies advance the human rights agenda, technological developments have equal capacity to undermine efforts. From authoritarian states monitoring political dissidents by way of surveillance technologies, to the phenomenon of “deepfakes” destabilizing the democratic public sphere, ethical and policy-oriented implications must be taken into consideration with the development of technological innovations.  

Technological advancements also introduce new actors to the human rights framework. The movement has historically focused on the role of the state in ensuring rights and justice. Today, technological advancements and the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, in particular, necessitate interaction, collaboration, and coordination with leaders from business and technology in addition to government.

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A More Equal Future? Political Equality, Discrimination, and Machine Learning

Citation:

Joshua Simons and Eli Frankel. 5/3/2022. “A More Equal Future? Political Equality, Discrimination, and Machine Learning.” Technology and Democracy Discussion Paper Series. Publisher's Version
A More Equal Future? Political Equality, Discrimination, and Machine Learning

Abstract:

Machine learning is everywhere. AI-evangelists promise that data-driven decision-making will not only boost organizational efficiency, it will also help make organizations fairer and advance social justice. Yet the effects of machine learning on social justice, human rights, and democracy will depend not on the technology itself, but on human choices about how to design and deploy it. Among the most important is whether and how to ensure systems do not reproduce and entrench pervasive patterns of inequality.

The authors argue that we need radical civil rights reforms to regulate AI in the digital age, and must return to the roots of civil rights. This paper is adapted from Josh Simons's forthcoming book, Algorithms for the People: Democracy in the Age of AI, published by Princeton University Press this Fall.

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author/date: Joshua Simons et al. | May 3 2022
teaser text: Machine learning is everywhere. Yet the effects of machine learning on social justice, human rights, and democracy will depend not on the technology itself, but on human choices about how to design and deploy it.
Last updated on 05/03/2022

How AI Fails Us

Citation:

Divya Siddarth, Daron Acemoglu, Danielle Allen, Kate Crawford, James Evans, Michael Jordan, and E. Glen Weyl. 4/14/2022. “How AI Fails Us.” Technology and Democracy Discussion Paper Series. Publisher's Version
How AI Fails Us

Abstract:

The dominant vision of artificial intelligence imagines a future of large-scale autonomous systems outperforming humans in an increasing range of felds. This “actually existing AI” vision misconstrues intelligence as autonomous rather than social and relational. It is both unproductive and dangerous, optimizing for artificial metrics of human replication rather than for systemic augmentation, and tending to concentrate power, resources, and decision-making in an engineering elite. Alternative visions based on participating in and augmenting human creativity and cooperation have a long history and underlie many celebrated digital technologies such as personal computers and the internet. Researchers and funders should redirect focus from centralized autonomous general intelligence to a plurality of established and emerging approaches that extend cooperative and augmentative traditions as seen in successes such as Taiwan’s digital democracy project and collective intelligence platforms like Wikipedia.

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author/date: Divya Siddarth et al. | Apr 14 2022
teaser text: The dominant vision of artificial intelligence imagines a future of large-scale autonomous systems outperforming humans in an increasing range of fields — but this view is both unproductive and dangerous.
Last updated on 04/14/2022

Building Human Rights into Intelligent-Community Design: Beyond Procurement

Citation:

Phil Dawson, Faun Rice, and Maya Watson. 2/25/2022. “Building Human Rights into Intelligent-Community Design: Beyond Procurement.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.
Building Human Rights into Intelligent-Community Design: Beyond Procurement

Abstract:

Cities have emerged as test beds for digital innovation. Data-collecting devices, such as sensors and cameras, have enabled fine-grained monitoring of public services including urban transit, energy distribution, and waste management, yielding tremendous potential for improvements in efficiency and sustainability. At the same, there is a rising public awareness that without clear guidelines or sufficient safeguards, data collection and use in both public and private spaces can lead to negative impacts on a broad spectrum of human rights and freedoms. In order to productively move forward with intelligent-community projects and design them to meet their full potential in serving the public interest, a consideration of rights and risks is essential.

 

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author/date: Phil Dawson et al. | Feb 25 2022
teaser text: Municipalities have an opportunity to lead in responsible technology adoption by embracing thorough and innovative human rights-based approaches to intelligent-community design.
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“Global civil society and transnational advocacy networks have played an important role in social movements and struggles for social change. Looking ahead, these movements need to coalesce around the impact of technology on society, in particular harnessing the promise, challenging the perils, and looking at maintaining public and private spheres that respect creativity, autonomy, diversity, and freedom of thought and expression.”

- Sushma Raman