The Turing’s Ethics Theme Lead presents at UNESCO General Conference

Dr David Leslie presents at the 41st session of UNESCO General Conference on global agreement for the ethics of artificial intelligence

Thursday 25 Nov 2021

At the UNESCO General Conference in Paris today (Thursday 25 November), Dr David Leslie, Ethics Theme Lead at The Alan Turing Institute, gave a presentation at the launch of the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.

The event was opened by Audrey Azouley, Director-General of UNESCO, who said the Recommendation is “unprecedented in its substance, its scope and its degree of precision”.

The Recommendation will be adopted by the 193 Member States of the Organization, and for the first time provides a global normative framework on the ethics of artificial intelligence.

Dr Leslie, from the Institute’s public policy programme, said the publication of the guidance by UNESCO “marks another remarkable achievement in its distinguished history.

“It puts forward values and principles—such as human dignity, social and economic justice, environmental flourishing, and the interconnectedness of all living creatures with each other and the biosphere—that provide a compass for a global AI innovation ecosystem in dire need of directions for principled navigation.”

It also sets out a series of policy recommendations that provide an operational framework for stakeholders across public, private and third sectors to put these values and principles into practice.

Why is this Recommendation important?

Artificial intelligence holds enormous promise to better society. Innovations in AI are already dramatically improving the provision of essential goods and services from healthcare and transport to education and food supply. As AI technologies improve, there is hope that AI can one day help humanity solve some of its most difficult scientific problems and confront some of its most urgent challenges.

Artificial intelligence’s tremendous potential for good is matched by its potential to cause harm. The penetration of AI systems into all areas of our lives gives rise to legitimate worries. These range from loss of agency and social connection, entrenched bias and discrimination, biospheric harm, and widening digital divides to concerns related to harmful outcomes as well as data integrity, privacy and security. The pervasiveness of AI technologies also triggers mounting questions concerning their governance, assurance, and oversight.

In recognition of the transformative power of AI – for good and bad – and as part of its mandate, UNESCO has initiated a global dialogue to establish a normative framework on the ethics of artificial intelligence. After two years of consultations, involving the Institute’s Programme Director for Artificial Intelligence, Dr Adrian Weller, as the UK representative, UNESCO's 193 Member States are adopting the first ever global Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. We are delighted that the Institute has played such an important role in this work and in this historic event.

Professor David Leslie

Director of Ethics and Responsible Innovation Research at The Alan Turing Institute and Professor of Ethics, Technology and Society, Queen Mary University of London