Impact of Technology on Human Rights



We are living in an era of disruptive technologies, witnessing incidents of human rights violations with the use of technologies. History always changes itself with the introduction of revolutionary technology. Introduction of technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Big Data Analysis and IoT are such technologies that are changing the way societies are behaving, people’s relationships are evolving, businesses are conducting and the overall future is being shaped.

AI has been considered a tool-free from biases in the human decision-making process. But many incidents show that the issue of racism and systematic discrimination are rooted in AI tools and technologies through its algorithms. Indeed, AI poses a greater threat to human rights violations of vulnerable sections of society by facilitating discrimination and hence manifesting a new wave of oppression and torture based on technology.

Source: Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times
A facial recognition software that is in use at Megvii, an artificial intelligence company located in Beijing.

Racial Discrimination by AI Tools and Algorithms

It has been witnessed how AI-based face recognition systems repeatedly failed to provide equal treatment to Black people and even present them with a derogatory view. 

Google Photos, an AI-Based advanced face recognition system 2015 categorised the photos of two Black persons as gorillas.

Researchers also revealed in their studies that algorithms that find out which patients need additional medical care underestimate the medical needs of Black patients enhancing the racial discrimination in the medical needs of Black people. This problem was highlighted in an AI-based medical decision-making solution provided by a leading healthcare services company, Optum.

This racial bias has been identified in many other leading companies’ software and medical tools as well.

The algorithm was not intentionally racist but particularly excluded race when considering the medical needs. It considers only costs as criteria to determine the needs for future medical care. White people spend more on medical care presented that they would need more care in future as well. In this way, it is excluding the Black people for future medical care who already suffer from a lack of spending on necessary medical needs.

Now, the increased use of AI-based solutions could perpetuate digital bias in society and hamper the rights of equal treatment and the right to protection.

Many countries like Hong Kong, India, China and Denmark are adopting the AI-based face recognition system as a tool in predictive policing. But research points out that such tools are unevaluated for their inherited biases and further enhance the pre-existing discriminatory law enforcement practices in the policing system. It has been found that such face recognition algorithms have repeatedly put Black people at a higher risk of being perceived as a high-risk offenders.

Related Article: Techno-Racism: Technology Automating Racial Discrimination

Perceived Threats from Technology for Human Rights Violations

Data Privacy and Surveillance

It has a  long history of collecting private data and information of citizens by the governments in the name of national security, economic stability and other social benefits. Now with the advent and intrusion of more advanced technologies, even private companies are collecting a huge chunk of personal, private and financial data of people in the name of serving them in their best interest. Sometimes even people remain unaware about their data being kept by the companies and bought and sold with other parties without their consent. This form of data theft and sharing is hampering the right to privacy. People should have complete control of their data and information. The government needs to be equally focused on issues of data control, privacy, surveillance, digital rights and protection along with the step-up of digital infrastructure.

Source of Unemployment

Universal Declaration of Human Rights under its Article 23, International Labour Organisation through Article 1(2) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights declares collectively for the protection against unemployment and the right to work. 

But rapid automation, AI and IoT based technological tools and business solutions are fast disrupting the industrial way of doing business. The future of work is seen as more automation based. Many researchers are already cautioning about the huge job loss in the future market due to AI-based automation.

Businesses are also willing to adopt advanced technologies to replace their human workforce for the achievement of more precision, fewer defects and errors, higher productivity, lesser cost and higher profits. One Chinese company, Changying Precision Technology, 2017 successfully replaced around 90% of its human workforce with machines and achieved great success by enhancing productivity by 250%. Likewise, Adidas is moving towards companies which are only robot-based.

This will force the people to engage in low labour wages and face less work opportunities. It will affect mostly the already vulnerable low and middle-skilled groups who depend on low wage jobs and manual work. But eventually, AI might disrupt every field and pose a threat to job security for all skilled and less-skilled workers.

It seems that technology may further divide the world into extremely poor and extremely rich sections of society. Thus it is highly required by the national and international governments to force a balance between technology and human relations so that human societies, work relations and their rights remain safe. Technology should be an enabler for humankind rather than a cause for its doom.

Restriction on People’s Movements and Choices

It is the basic right of people to freely move. But many countries are using AI-based surveillance systems to check on the illegal activities and movement of the people. But such systems are placed in areas without people’s knowledge with underlying biases toward Black people, refugees and migrants. In the name of community policing and predictive policing, such surveillance are only creating mistrust between the police and the community members.

In addition, countries like the USA are employing cameras to take pictures of people inside the vehicles while entering and leaving the country.

Key Takeaways

Technology should not aim to reduce humans to just a string of 1’s and 0’s in the database and dictate the control of machines over them without considering the ethical, emotional, and psychological dilemmas and needs. 

Machines can not replace the human wit, intelligence, emotions and decision-making ability that needs humane rationale. 

It is important to consider and use technologies as an enabling hand to humans rather than degrade their position in society by amplifying pre-existing biases of race, status, nationalism, gender or religion.


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