Artificial Intelligence and its applications are a part of everyday life: from social media newsfeeds to mediating traffic flow in cities, from autonomous cars to connected consumer devices like smart assistants, spam filters, voice recognition systems, and search engines.

AI has the potential to revolutionise societies in positive ways. However, as with any scientific or technological advancement, there is a real risk that the use of new tools by states or corporations will have a negative impact on human rights, including the right to privacy.

AI-driven consumer products and autonomous systems are frequently equipped with sensors that generate and collect vast amounts of data without the knowledge or consent of those in its proximity. AI methods are being used to identify people who wish to remain anonymous; to infer and generate sensitive information about people from non-sensitive data; to profile people based upon population-scale data; and to make consequential decisions using this data, some of which profoundly affect people’s lives.

What is the problem

Re-identification and de-anonymisation: AI applications can be used to identify and thereby track individuals across different devices, in their homes, at work, and in public spaces. For example, while personal data is routinely (pseudo-)anonymised within datasets, AI can be employed to de-anonymise this data. Facial recognition is another means by which individuals can be tracked and identified, which has the potential to transform expectations of anonymity in public space.
Discrimination, unfairness, inaccuracies, bias: AI-driven identification, profiling, and automated decision-making may also lead to unfair, discriminatory, or biased outcomes. People can be misclassified, misidentified, or judged negatively, and such errors or biases may disproportionately affect certain groups of people.

Opacity and secrecy of profiling: Some applications of AI can be opaque to individuals, regulators, or even the designers of the system themselves, making it difficult to challenge or interrogate outcomes. While there are technical solutions to improving the interpretability and/or the ability to audit of some systems for different stakeholders, a key challenge remains where this is not possible, and the outcome has significant impacts on people’s lives.

Data exploitation: People are often unable to fully understand what kinds and how much data their devices, networks, and platforms generate, process, or share. As we bring smart and connected devices into our homes, workplaces, public spaces, and even bodies, the need to educate the public about such data exploitation becomes increasingly pressing. In this landscape, uses of AI for purposes like profiling, or to track and identify people across devices and even in public spaces, amplify this asymmetry.

What is the solution

The development, use, research, and development of AI must be subject to the minimum requirement of respecting, promoting, and protecting international human rights standards.   

Different types of AI and different domains of application raise specific ethical and regulatory human rights issues. In order to ensure that they protect individuals from the risks posed by AI, existing laws must be reviewed, and if necessary amended, to address the effects of new and emerging threats to privacy.

What PI is doing

We are working with policy makers, regulators, industry, and other civil society organisations to highlight the need for strong data and privacy regulation.

We are also doing research and policy work on AI in the Chinese context. Chinese companies collect and maintain far-reaching stores of data on Chinese users, and many are actively developing artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) programs to harness this information to provide services and grow business.