Human rights need to be at heart of big data and AI future

  • Date

    Thu 20 Dec 18

Professor Lorna McGregor

Human rights need to be at the heart of design, development and deployment of big data and artificial intelligence, says a new report published by the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex.

The report, authored by the ESRC Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project (HRBDT) shows how the use of big data and AI presents both opportunities for, and threats to, the enjoyment of human rights and how the human rights framework offers a response for governance of these technologies.

Big data and AI potentially offer significant opportunities for the advancement of human rights across many areas of life, including by facilitating more personalised education and assisting people in later life to live a dignified life at home.

However, the use of big data and AI can also undermine or violate human rights. For example, the use of these technologies can affect a range of sectors and areas of life, such as education, work, social care, health and law enforcement, and can negatively impact groups in positions of vulnerability, such as refugees, asylum-seekers and older persons. 

Inspired by the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this report recommends that in order to effectively respond to the potential and challenges of big data and AI, states and businesses should apply a human rights-based approach to existing and future applications of these technologies.

Professor Lorna McGregor, Principal Investigator of the Project and co-author of the report said: "States and businesses are already using big data and AI in ways that can seriously affect our human rights. They are also producing corporate policies and national strategies on AI. Yet, human rights are not yet sitting at the heart of the design, development, deployment and governance of AI. This needs to change so that everyone can benefit from developments in AI while being protected from the risks technology should serve society and not be an end of itself."

HRBDT began in 2015 with £5 million funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and further funding from the University of Essex.

The core objective of HRBDT is to identify and assess the risks and opportunities for human rights posed by big data and artificial intelligence and to propose solutions to ensure that new and emerging technologies are designed, developed, deployed and regulated in a way that enables rather than threatens human rights.