Side event on the Artificial Intelligence, Justice and Human Rights

Side event on the Artificial Intelligence, Justice and Human Rights

Algorithms are increasingly cited as one of the fundamental shaping devices of our daily existence. While the widespread use of algorithms today is making everyone’s life easier, their progressive use for automated reasoning in various sectors, such as in businesses and in the administration of justice, raises more and more questions. As artificial intelligence is slowly but surely becoming a reality, its increasing complexity concerns many of us. The 20th of September 2017, a side event on the use of artificial intelligence and its impacts on justice and human rights took place in the Palais des Nations. The 36th session of the Human Rights Council was the occasion to bring such debate inside the UN circles, as it is a central issue for the future of justice and human rights.

The co-organizers of the event, OPTIC and Dominicans for Justice and Peace, and the co-sponsors, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, the Permanent Mission of the Principality of Liechtenstein and the Caritas in Veritate Foundation, hoped to bring an ethical approach to the debate and to provide reflexions on the implications of the use of artificial intelligence in the field of justice, especially the criminal one, and on human rights.

The event, moderated by R.P. Eric Salobir, President of OPTIC, was introduced by two high profile panellists: H.E. Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic (Permanent Observer of the Holy See Mission in Geneva) and H.E. Ambassador Peter C. Matt (Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the Principality of Liechtenstein in Geneva). The two Ambassadors opened the event with some fundamental questions that one need to ask when confronted with the debate on artificial intelligence. H.E. Archbishop Jurkovic raised the question as to what shall be the consequences of artificial intelligence on our life and society, recognizing that we are ‘in a way […] continuously being generated to human life by other human beings who by treating us as equals, make of us what we are.’ Having in mind that artificial intelligence is defined as the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior, H.E. Ambassador Matt asked what kind of behavior we want to teach machines. This question is highly relevant, considering the danger of algorithmic discrimination.

The event was then followed by the interventions of a highly qualified panel: Prof. Pierre Vandergheynst (Full Professor at Signal Processing Laboratory, EPFL), Prof. Louis Assier Andrieu (Professor at the Law School, SciencesPo Paris) and Prof. Lorna McGregor (Professor and Director of the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex). For Prof. Vandergheynst, to understand new algorithms is not a problem, as they are quite simple to explain mathematically. What is not simple is to understand what pattern they are selecting, what the algorithm is measuring precisely. Artificial intelligence needs to be interpretable and this represents a major challenge today. Then, Prof. Andrieu shared his views about the use of artificial intelligence in the justice system and its potential fundamental changes. He referred to the president of the Parisian court of appeal, saying that a judgment doesn’t need to be just, but rather trusted. All societies are based on trust – where is the trust in the algorithm? Where is the element of communality? In the future can we trust the algorithm to decide something as important as human justice? We also observe a shift to a more predictive justice that work on correlation rather than causality. The anthropological consequences are important. Finally, Prof. McGregor noted that it is crucial to understand our environment and to understand human rights implications, whether they are positive or negative. For example, people recognize that, in terms of the Millennium Development Goals, the digitization can effectively improve access to justice. However, artificial intelligence represents clear risks for the right to non-discrimination, the right to privacy, the freedom of expression and of association, etc. It will be therefore crucial to ensure that there will be oversight mechanisms as well as proper remedies.

The event intended to raise awareness of the various stakeholders present in the room on the different implications of the use of this new technology. The organizers hope that this event will be an incentive for further discussions and reflections on the issue at the United Nations.


(12 October 2017)