C. P. Gurnani is MD and CEO, Tech Mahindra.
We are familiar with the impact of a fast-spreading and mutating virus on the world, but what we also know with certainty is that technology is equally rapid in its transformation. Starting with the Turing test in the 1960s to test machine intelligence, to the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI), technology has now become an omnipresent influence in human lives. This trend will only increase as we are stepping into the era of quantum computing, which can expand both our consciousness and the machine’s ability to interpret it. For this reason, we need to explore how technology intersects with ethics and human rights; and discuss how responsible technology can help protect them.
The advancements in technology may create certain vulnerabilities that can lead to unfavourable outcomes. For example, tracking technologies that aim to curb the spread of Covid-19 may be misused for surveillance activities that may violate the right to privacy. We must harness these same technologies to promote greater security, inclusion, participation, and socio-economic development. The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) put a special emphasis on strengthening human rights, and we must use technology responsibly to achieve these goals. Let us look at how emerging technologies can help us achieve them.
AI and data analytics for strengthening the rights to equality and work
Artificial intelligence and big data analytics can help governments and other stakeholders make effective policies and decisions by identifying and mitigating any pre-existing bias. This can help improve procedural fairness and equal treatment. AI and data analytics can help identify patterns of bias in communities based on factors such as race, age, and gender. Collecting and disaggregating data more easily—using these technologies—can help establish fair service delivery for all the people within a community.
At workplaces, AI-powered language detectors can filter out biased language in job descriptions and also help mitigate biases in hiring processes—promoting the right to fair and decent work. AI-based solutions can also mitigate issues linked to unfair performance reviews, payment gaps, and unfair promotion decisions in the workplace.
IoT and blockchain for protecting human rights associated with personal safety IoT (Internet of Things) powered wearables can enhance personal safety by monitoring a person’s critical medical condition. These devices can be designed to send instant notifications when there is a threat to the safety of an individual, ensuring timely help to save lives. Besides this, we can proactively leverage the predictive and monitoring capabilities of such technologies to ensure long-term sustainable rights protection, welfare, and security.
5G could increase surveillance capabilities and help provide more precise geo-location data from IoT devices. Drones can be deployed to better predict harvests and help farmers secure larger incomes. Blockchain technology can increase payment traceability and transparency to help protect people from fraudulent activities. Strong encryption, anonymity, and digital security tools can help defend the safety of people online, as well as promote freedom of expression—especially for vulnerable populations and human rights defenders.
Assistive technologies and edtech to promote service accessibility and right to education
People with different abilities tend to get fewer opportunities in education and employment. Assistive technologies (ATs), such as voice recognition, screen readers, and visual search engines, can increase service accessibility to them. In education, edtech platforms can offer quality education by training more people around the world. In rural areas, the availability of affordable network connectivity can help people get access to such platforms and a wide range of services. AI-enabled translation services can provide local language education that can extend the reach of education services and make them more inclusive. 5G can play a significant role in bridging this gap and ensuring last-mile connectivity.
Humane tech—the next era of human rights and technology
The upcoming era will go beyond the usual physical manifestations of self-driving cars, flying taxis, holographic projections, and will witness a melding of human consciousness with quantum AI consciousness. We are at the cusp of this transition and it is imperative to ingrain principles of ethics into the technology life cycle.
For instance, the exchange of sensitive health information with chatbots needs careful attention and consideration to promote its responsible use in healthcare. The chatbots RESET framework (a World Economic Forum initiative) is an example of how principles of ethics can be incorporated into solution design. The framework carefully selects from AI and healthcare ethics principles and interprets them within the context of the use of chatbots in healthcare. It further operationalises actions for each principle, enabling healthcare providers integrate actions from the framework within their workflows, to promote responsible deployment.
Additionally, to develop human-centred solutions, tech firms need to consider individuals with expertise from multiple disciplines. This can help in decision-making and co‑creating approaches that incorporate human rights into the development and deployment of emerging technologies.
The writer is MD and CEO of Tech Mahindra