What are human rights, and how do they tie into the current ethical guidelines and principles of AI? We’ll also look more closely at three rights of particular importance to AI: the right to privacy, security, and inclusion.

II. What are human rights?

Human rights form the foundation of the current ethical guidelines and principles of AI. This makes human rights a fundamental component of contemporary AI ethics. As rights, human rights are universal: all humans are entitled to have them. One does not have to be a particular kind of person or a member of some specific community to have human rights.

Human rights are norms that protect all people, everywhere from political, legal, and social abuses. They include the following:

  • Civil and political rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property, freedom of expression, pursuit of happiness, and equality before the law
  • Social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to participate in science and culture, the right to work, and the right to education

The role of human rights is to protect people's ability to form, construe, and pursue their own conceptions of a worthwhile life – it's not just about the ability to live “in liberty, happiness and well-being”.

Conceptually, human rights are grounded in agency and autonomy (Gewirth 1982). They have an ethical priority: if they compete with other considerations such as economic wealth, national stability or some other factor, human rights should be prioritized. In the context of AI, this prioritization implies the following requirements:

  • AI applications that could clearly violate human rights should not be used
  • AI applications that prevent people from enjoying their human rights or actively put them at risk of human rights violations should not be used

However, human rights have certain context-sensitive properties that allow individuals to prioritize a specific human right if needed. Some rights are more fundamental than the others. For example, when the right to life conflicts with the right to privacy, the right to privacy will generally be outweighed.

In recent years, privacy and security concerns have dominated the discussion on AI and human rights. Emerging combinations of big data analytics, surveillance technologies and developing biometric recognition methods have recently received significant media and policy attention. Also, the right to equality and inclusion has raised a lot of public discussion. In the next section, we’ll take a brief look at these discussions.

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