Artificial Intelligence and Its Impact on Human Rights

Mathais Risse and Sushma Raman introducing themselves to the audience. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

On October 25, 2019, the Institute for Human Rights hosted Mathias Risse, Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Administration and director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University, and Sushma Raman, the executive director of the Carr Center.  During the lecture and discussion, Risse asked the audience to consider the present and future moral and philosophical implications of ever-growing developments in artificial intelligence (AI) technology.   

One of the most well-known ethical dilemmas that Risse addressed is the Trolley Problem thought experiment which, seemed to be irrelevant in real life at the time of its conception, has massive implications in today’s world.  Imagine that you are standing by as a runaway trolley is headed toward five people who are tied to the tracks.  You can either refuse to intervene and allow those five people to die, or you can divert the trolley onto a sidetrack where a single person is tied. Which option is more ethical?  As AI technology is developed and products such as self-driving cars become more common, we cannot ignore the ethical concerns that will emerge and their attendant consequences. 

Risse also discussed rising concerns about the relationship between social inequalities and AI technology.  One concern is that, as technology develops, “unskilled” labor will be outsourced to AI, leaving low-income communities that typically work those jobs behind.  Not only does that leave people struggling to find work to support themselves and their families, but it also takes away their voice and political power because it pushes them out of the job market and economic system.  There is also a concern that technology will become less accessible to low-income communities as it develops, and that under-privileged groups will be left behind.  This has led many to worry that AI will “drive a widening technological wedge into society.” 

After the lecture, Risse and Raman answered some of the audience’s questions.  One person asked which of the problems regarding AI and human rights is the most concerning.  In response, Risse pointed out that it depends on who you ask.  From policymakers to tech developers to “unskilled” laborers, each group would have a different perspective on which part of the issue is the most urgent because each party has a unique relationship with technology.  

In closing his lecture, Risse noted that he wished he could end on a more cheerful note, but he found it to be nearly impossible due to the long list of concerns that the philosophical community has regarding the future of humanity and artificial intelligence.  Throughout his lecture and the Q & A session, Risse emphasized the point that there needs to be a serious increase in the interaction that occurs between the AI community and the human rights community.  While technological advancements can be wonderful and even lifesaving, it is vital that we evaluate the potential risks that come with them.  Just because something is possible does not mean it should be done, and multiple perspectives are necessary to effectively evaluate any given possibility.

The Power of Technology

Movies such as Blade Runner, IRobot, or the Matrix portray a futuristic ambiance in regard to artificial intelligence overpowering humanity. At first glance, these movies can seem unrealistic and a bit absurd. However, in recent years, it appears to be less ridiculous as it hints at a bit of truth. There is no doubt that technology has advanced at a rapid speed in the last ten years. As each year passes, it seems there is a new device or software that can somehow make your life easier. Technology is used in every aspect of our life – from our homes to our work to the stores we visit. Often times, it can seem inescapable. If you turn your attention to your surroundings, you are likely to see people on their phones or computers – whether they are searching the Internet, looking through Instagram, or sending a text.

It is alarming to consider how technology affects every aspect of our lives. It even influences human rights such as the right to privacy or freedom of expression. There are numerous concerns that people have about the role and impact of artificial intelligence. People are concerned about the rise of “machine autonomy” and how gradually it can diminish “the status of humans”. Furthermore, there are concerns on the use of artificial intelligence in terms of “unjust and unequal political, military, economic and social contexts.”

For example, the U.S. seems to be moving towards an artificial arms race by using, killer robots, or lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). People concerned about giving these killer robots the power to decide whether someone lives or dies with little to no human control. Google created a military program called Project Maven, where a machine is used to analyze the drone surveillance footage which can be used for extrajudicial killings, meaning people could be killed without any legal processing. There have been aimed at Google urging them to reconsider what the data is used for. Google has since then declined to renew their contract.

Google is not the only company that has dealt with controversy in terms of technology and how it affects people’s human rights. A data firm by the name of Cambridge Analytica was caught using data from Facebook in order to build voter profiles. Employees acquired private Facebook data of millions of users, then they sold the information to political campaigns.

Freedom of Expression. Source: Flickr, Creative Commons

Another rising controversy with technology is how artificial intelligence (AI) systems have fostered “discriminatory practices”. The University of Cambridge published a study on the Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence which details how “terrorists, criminals, and rogue states could potentially use AI’s with an intent to harm people. It foreshadows an increase in cybercrime, misuse of drones and manipulation of elections. While the report is seen as a warning, it provides a series of recommendations: policy-makers and technical researchers working together, being mindful and proactive about the possibility of AI misuse, and expanding the stakeholders in regards to preventing and reducing the risk of malicious use of AI. The goal of their report was to grab the attention of governments, organizations, and individuals. However, we need more than a call-to-action such as effective and enforceable legislative control. We cannot deny the entanglement between our everyday lives and technology and must confront the difficulty in deciding where to draw the line between beneficial and malicious use of technology.

A  Rwanda’s Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye about the country-wide DNA database. In order to make this proposal work, scientists will collect DNA samples from all 12 million citizens in Rwanda, giving them access to personal medical and genetic information. Their reasoning for implementing this program is to decrease the number of crimes. There has been backlash from human rights campaigners because they believe the data could be misused by the government and violate international human rights laws. However, Busingye made a statement assuring the people that their end goal, using the data to determine who is responsible for the crimes, is genuine. The proposal has still not officially been approved but are waiting for the budget and the proper legislation to be passed in order to make it legal.

Rwanda is not alone in attempting to create a mandated DNA program whereas countries, such as China and Kuwait, have already set this program in motion.. People are concerned about how  Muslim Uighur minority. Researchers believe the Uighur minority is “systematical detained in re-education camps”. In response, China denies all these claims. Similarly, four years ago, Kuwait passed a law that required their citizens and visitors to give their DNA samples; however, the law was revoked because it violated articles 30 and 31 of Kuwait’s Constitution in regards to personal liberty and privacy.

Human Rights China. Source: Wikimedia, Creative Commons

As the debate for technology and AI continues, the Human Rights Watch aims to ban developing and using these killer robots. However this technology is nothing new – the focus is on how, when, and why individuals should or should not use them. Furthermore, the question of human intervention arises. While using DNA collection in certain circumstances, such as finding criminals, can be beneficial, there poses a question of how people use the date and if it infringes on our human rights. The numerous databases worldwide have no common structure among themselves. Thus, there are concerns on how countries obtain the data and whom they share the information with. The DNA database can trace anyone through “biological tagging”, even those who innocent or have no relation in regards to the crime in question. Other possible challenges could include how the information is kept and used. For example, when determining whether or not an individual is a good fit for a job the hiring company could access the data and that affects the individual’s rights. Furthermore, the data could be used by criminal organizations. Both killer robots and DNA collection have benefits such as solving more crimes and military advances; however, it ultimately challenges the principle of privacy.

International Women’s Day: Continuing the Fight while Celebrating the Victories

a picture of Peruvian women in front of a mountain range
Peru. Women in the Colca valley. Source: Pedro Szekely, Creative Commons

Today is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change.” In her context statement about the theme, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka states that the changing world continues to shape the lives of people and “we have to be intentional about its use to positively impact the lives of women and girls. [The theme] puts innovation at the centre of efforts to reflect the needs and viewpoints of women and girls and to resolve barriers to public services and opportunities.” Innovation highlights the game-changers and activists willing to “accelerate progress for gender equality, encourage investment in gender-responsive social systems, and build services and infrastructure that meet the needs of women and girls.” The goal of today is to celebrate the incredible achievements of women and girls who seek to overcome their marginalized status in their communities, level the representation across various academic disciplines and professional fields and undo the cycles of intersectional injustices to bring about a more equitable world.

History

What started as a response to a women’s labor strike in New York 1909 became an international movement to honor the rights of women and to garner support for universal women’s suffrage. In 1913-14, International Women’s Day was a tactic to protest World War I as a part of the peace movement. The UN adopted 8 March as the official date in 1975 during the International Year of Women. Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is Sustainable Development Goal #5 in 2015.

Celebrating some game-changers and activists

The list below is not extensive. Its purpose is to assist you in your search to discover and know what women are doing and have done around the world.

Kiara Nirghin: Won Google Science Fair for creating an orange and avocado peel mixture to fight against drought conditions around the world. She will join Secretary-General António Guterres.

Elizabeth Hausler: Founder of BuildChange.org, an organization that trains builders, homeowners, and governments to build disaster-resistant homes in nations often affected by earthquakes and typhoons.

Jaha Dujureh: Founder of SafeHandsforGirls.org, an organization fighting to end child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

BlackGirlsCode.com: A San Francisco based organization seeking to increase the number of girls from marginalized communities in STEM fields by 2040.

Shakhodat Teshebayeva: When the water crisis threatened her livelihood, she organized and mobilized a women’s group to advocate for a place for women at the discussion table regarding equal access to water.

Mila Rodriguez: Cultivates safe spaces for young people to use music to promote peace in Colombia.

Wangari Maathai: late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Kenya who initiated the GreenBeltMovement.org by planting trees for the cultivation of sustainable development and peace.

Next Einstein Forum: Continental STEM forum in Africa

Una Mulale: the only pediatric critical care doctor in Botswana who works to combine medicine and art to bring healing to the body and the soul.

The Ladypad Project

This coming week, Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter and Dr. Stacy Moak will take 12 UAB students to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. The team, in collaboration with the I See Maasai Development Initiative, will fund education on women’s health rights and provide 1500 girls with materials, including underwear and reusable pads, for menstrual hygiene management. The project was awarded a grant through Birmingham’s Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation.

Continuing the Fight

International Women’s Day is not only about celebrating the accomplishments of women and girls, but it is also about shining a light on the continuing injustices faced by more than half of the world’s population. From femicide and early marriage to FGM and sexual violence and exclusion from peace talks, gender inequity discounts the contribution of women and girls to the overall value of humanity. Kofi Annan, the late UN Secretary-General, posited that the empowerment of women proves more effective than any other tool for development. Noeleen Heyzer concludes that although there are women’s issues and rights still to be raised and respected, including those outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, there are many that we must continue to protect. March is Women’s History Month and our contributors will write about issues that continue to impact the lives of women and girls around the world.

 

Disability Advocacy and Technology in the 21st Century

Images of The Gang of 19 and “Capitol Crawl” will forever be remembered as pivotal moments in the U.S. disability rights movement alongside international achievements such as the first Paralympic Games in Rome, African Decade of Disabled People, and UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There are those who foster the value-based assumption that picketing, chanting, and public fervor are the appropriate methods to fighting the good fight. However, as digitalization rapidly enters our homes, schools, and places of work, modern technology offers a myriad of new ways to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, namely social networking platforms and phone apps.

Many of those who engage with social networking platforms have heard of social media subcultures such as Asian-American Twitter, Black Twitter, and Feminist Twitter. These digital subcultures often address sociocultural issues related to their communities and galvanize captivating hashtags, like #BeingAsian, #BlackLivesMatter, and #MeToo, that take the mainstream media by storm. Among, and often intersecting with, these social causes is a growing phenomenon that could be referred to as Disability Twitter. Here, disabled activists share individual narratives coupled with hashtags, such as #AbledsAreExhausting, #DisabledAndCute, and #ThisIsAbleism, as well as address cultural, social, and political issues affecting the disability community through sentiments like #CripTheVote (accessible voting), #DisabilityTooWhite (limited representation of people of color with disabilities), and #SuckItAbleism (plastic straw ban). Such efforts have also been extended to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, further capturing the attention of disability rights to internet users worldwide, generating dialogue and solutions that relate to accessibility.

smartphone. Source: pixabay.com, Creative Commons

With two-thirds of the globe connected by a mobile device, usage of phone apps has become the norm for many people. While many people use such apps for daily tasks and leisure, others utilize these platforms to amplify justice-related causes, namely access for people with disabilities. For example, Wheelmap is a service that allows users to locate and mark accessible places in seven languages. One does so by rating a respective space with a traffic light system that indicates green markings are wheelchair accessible, yellow markings have restricted wheelchair access, and red markings are not wheelchair accessible. Voice of Specially Abled People (VOSAP) is an India-based organization who created a phone app with the same name which crowdsources accessibility data so it can be used to inform community leaders and promote awareness. VOSAP also allows users to make an action pledge that supports people with disabilities so communities can correspond with allied parties. Parking Mobility is another phone app that offers a self-reporting mechanism, although this service allows users to report abuse of accessible parking spots. For partnering communities, such reports are forwarded to local law enforcement and citations are mailed to the registrant of the vehicle. Please contact Parking Mobility to inquire about getting your community involved in this program. There are also many other phone apps designed for personal assistive use such as Be My Eyes (navigation for blind and visually impaired), RogerVoice (subtitled phone calls), Miracle Modus (self-relief for Autistic persons), and Medication Reminder (people with Alzheimer’s and dementia). As a result of these diverse phone apps, there are multiple ways for people to self-advocate as well as spread information about accessibility.

As demonstrated, social media and digital technology have engendered revolutionary ways to address issues salient to the disability community, allowing self-advocates and allies to communicate about current challenges, successes, and resources. Therefore, simply opening your computer, tablet, or phone to navigate these issues, alongside other intersecting causes, shines a brighter light on the importance of disability rights, access, and representation in the 21st century.

Keep up with the latest announcements related to the upcoming Symposium on Disability Rights by following the IHR on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Importance of Art in Human Rights

How does art affect humanity and human rights? Does it play an important role in human rights advocacy? Throughout history, people have used the arts as a form of self-expression by reflecting on their lives and what they observe. Art and design are constantly changing, and growing, with history. It is constantly being influenced while influencing societal events. As an artist and graphic designer, I believe that use of imagery influences societies, helping raise awareness of social and political issues. In the vast world of social and political arts, there are a few examples of work that stood out to me because of their contribution to society, namely: “The Hand That Will Rule the World” by Ralph Chaplin, “All Power to the People” by Emory Douglas, “The Anatomically Correct Oscar” by The Guerilla Girls, “Red Sand Project” by Molly Gochman, “The Blue Bra” by Bahia Shehab, and “America” by Touba Alipour. These are a few good examples of how art and design can impact human rights with solidarity, awareness, and protest.

“The Hand That Will Rule the World” by Ralph Chaplin. June 30, 1917

The symbol of the clinched fist has been a symbol of solidarity as early as 1917. “The Hand That Will Rule the World” by Ralph Chaplin is an illustration referring to the IWW (Industrial Workers of The World). Industrial unionism began when skilled workers were displaced by modern machinery and the monopolization of industries. It was a union that believed industries should be controlled by the workers, benefiting the many instead of enriching the few, and create better working conditions. In this image, the workers are uniting their arms and creating one giant fist, which represents solidarity and unity, while holding tools, representing manuallabor, while factories in the backdrop symbolize the machinery displacing the workers.

“All Power to the People” by Emory Douglas, March 9, 1969

The Black Panther Party was an African-American organization founded October 15, 1966 in Oakland, CA. One of their greatest successes was using imagery to reach people across the country about their movement. According to The New York Times, even though the Black Panther Party was associated with armed resistance, their most powerful weapon was reaching out to African-American communities through works of art. Emory Douglass, the artist behind many these images, has a background in printmaking and activism, pushing him to create images that show the injustice toward communities of color in the United States. His illustration “All Power to the People” is another example of the solidarity symbolism employed by the raised fist. The raised fist and the words “All Power to The People” brings a sense of unity to the viewer. Also, the person’s expression speaks on an emotional level, as if they’re shouting these words, making it a very powerful piece of artwork.

“The Anatomically Correct Oscar” by The Guerrilla Girls, 26 Feb 2016

The Guerilla Girls are feminist activist group comprised of more than 55 artists. They describe themselves by saying: “We wear gorilla masks in public and use facts, humor and outrageous visuals to expose gender and ethnic bias as well as corruption in politics, art, film, and pop culture. We undermine the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the understory, the subtext, the overlooked, and the downright unfair.” This group of activist artists started in 1985 and, by the early-21st century, have expanded their awareness into the media world, namely the film industry. “The Anatomically Correct Oscar” brings awareness to the racism and sexism in the film industry by portraying a white male holding his genitals with text boxes demonstrating the percentage of people of color that have won Oscars in the past 86 years. The Guerilla Girls displayed this billboard in Hollywood a few months leading up to 2016 Oscars, noting, “the people we want to reach will see it…There is so much positive press around the Oscars – the gowns, the stars – that we decided it was time for another point of view.

“Red Sand Project” by Molly Gochman

Molly Gochman’s “Red Sand Project” is a worldwide instillation that takes a hands-on approach of bringing awareness to human trafficking. This project encourages all communities to pour red sand into cracks on sidewalks to recognize the overlooked populations (refugees, immigrants, girls, and others) that are at risk of slavery and exploitation. “These interventions remind us that we can’t merely walk over the most marginalized people in our communities — those who fall through the metaphoric cracks”, explains Molly Gochman. This informative, and largely interactive, work of art takes simple, yet powerful, gestures and to bring worldwide awareness through photography and social media. It is an ongoing project, raising action for those who are overlooked and vulnerable to human trafficking.

“The Blue Bra” by Bahia Shehab, 2011

In 2011, various outbursts of popular protests swept the Middle East and North Africa, causing a revolutionary wave called the Arab Spring. Staring from Tunisia and later spreading to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria, people were rising against their oppressive leaders. As the protests grew larger they were met with violent responses from authorities. One of the striking things that came out of this short period was the growth in street art, graffiti, and calligraphy. “The Blue Bra” by Bahia Shehab, located in Cairo, Egypt, is a great example of protest of oppression. This graffiti is part of an instillation called “Thousand Times No” which Shehab explains, “represents a rejection of both the conformity and the repression that often stifle the Arabic speaking region and Islamic cultures.” The text above the Blue Bra is saying “no stripping the people” and the sole of the military boot reads “long live a peaceful revolution”, calling the incident of a veiled girl who was stripped and beaten by police on December 18, 2011, and happened to be wearing a blue bra. In another location, Sheab installed a calligraphic graffiti which is an Arabic translation of Pablo Neruda’s quote, “you may crush the flowers, but you cannot delay the spring”.

“America” by Touba Alipour, 2017

Touba Alipour’s “America” is a mixed media artwork, curated by gallery director and artist Indria Cesarine, placed in The Untitled Space gallery’s “ONE YEAR OF RESISTANCE” exhibition in January 2017, shortly after the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. This exhibition, which included over 80 artists, addressed and protested policies that challenged human rights in our society such as immigration rights, health care, reproductive rights, climate change, transgender rights, white supremacy, gender equality, gun control, sexual harassment and many others. Among these artists, Touba Alipour addressed the travel bans placed by Trump which prevented people from six Muslim countries to enter the United States. “Being from Iran, it definitely affected me in different ways”, mentions Alipour, “I’ve seen families being torn apart, and they had green cards, they were living here, they just went to travel, and when they came back they were told they can no longer enter the country”.

Art is a way for people to express themselves, whether for the sake of imagination or to express ideas. It has been used effectively today, and throughout history, to send public messages about social and political issues. Human rights and the arts go together because of the expressive nature of both subjects. As people, we can stand up for our rights through expression. Due to their ability to create visual interest and to promote solidarity, awareness, and protest, artists and designers play a pivotal role in society by promoting human rights advocacy. Especially in the modern age, where people rely heavily on technology and media, it is important to send messages that work toward creating a society that respects human rights for themselves as well as others.