Artificial Intelligence in Costa Rica: justice, ethics, and inclusion so that no one is left behind
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come to stay. We are not only talking about Chat GPT or programs for designing presentations and summarizing documents, but we are also talking about the highest technology applied to all areas of our lives: medicine, security, food, education, and the job market, among others.
AI can help strengthen resilience in the face of natural disasters, design energy-efficient buildings, improve food production, advance medical diagnoses, and aid scientific research.
However, digital technology does not exist in a vacuum: it has enormous potential to produce positive changes, but it can also reinforce and magnify existing gaps and exacerbate economic and other types of inequalities if we do not make it work under the parameters of ethics, equity, and inclusion for all people equally.
Without effective rules, there is a risk that AI will create new inequalities and widen existing ones. It is not necessary to look far to find examples of AI-based systems that reproduce unjust social biases.
In recent years, researchers have documented several cases of biased AI algorithms. Among them are crime prediction algorithms that unjustly target Afro-descendant and Latinx people for crimes they did not commit, as well as facial recognition systems that struggle to accurately identify people with certain physical characteristics.
The deployment of such technologies without ethical frameworks can lead to manipulation of behaviors, exacerbation of inequalities, deepening of biases, fostering of extremism and radicalization, harm to diversity, and erosion of human rights and fundamental freedoms upon which democratic societies are built.
The public use of AI must be based on a solid ethical foundation. In 2020, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, published a roadmap for digital cooperation that addresses how the international community can better leverage the opportunities offered by digital technologies and, at the same time, address their challenges.
The call is to connect, achieving universal, secure, inclusive, and affordable access to the Internet for all people by 2030. It is a call to respect human rights, which do exist in virtual and digital life and must occupy a central place in the use and application of technology. It is also an opportunity to protect all people, especially those in vulnerable situations, by mitigating online harms and growing threats to digital security.
In 2021, commissioned by its Member States, UNESCO developed the world's first normative instrument in the form of a Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence adopted by the organization's 193 Member States. This document establishes a global standard for AI based on key ethical values and principles for its development and use. It also provides detailed guidance on how to apply them in a wide range of policy areas being transformed by AI, such as data governance, the environment, gender equality, the economy and work, culture, education, and research.
Through its Ministry of Science, Innovation, Technology, and Telecommunications (MICITT), Costa Rica has committed to promoting its AI strategy in accordance with UNESCO's "Recommendation on Ethics in Artificial Intelligence." In this way, Costa Rica will become the first Central American country to have an AI policy.
AI brings great benefits to the digital age, but it can also affect the security and freedom of action of users around the world. It is necessary to strengthen international cooperation to develop and use AI in a way that is respectful of human rights, safe, and sustainable, and to promote peace.
At the United Nations, we will continue to support the country on its path to promote, develop, and use AI with this ethical and just approach so that no one is left behind.
This article was authored by Allegra Baiocchi, UN Resident Coordinator in Costa Rica and Alexander Leicht, Director of the UNESCO Multipurpose Office in San José UNESCO Representative and was published earlier here.