The ombudsmen alert about artificial intelligence and human rights



The Catalan Ombudsman and the IOI start the debate in Europe on artificial intelligence and human rights in Barcelona

They consider it necessary and urgent to regulate the guarantee of human rights in international treaties, which could be violated by the application of artificial intelligence.

The conference brought together institutions, experts, business representatives, ombudsmen and representatives of human rights structures

On March 2nd and 3rd, the International Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights: Ombudsmanship Challenges, Roles, and Tools of was organized by the International Ombudsman's Institute (IOI) and the Catalan Ombudsman at the Museum of Design Hub in Barcelona. The conference had a total of five panel discussions that were based on artificial intelligence and the importance of human rights enforcement and regulation in this field.

During the opening of the seminar, the role of ombudsmen in the field of human rights and artificial intelligence was emphasized, as explained by Rafael Ribó, Catalan Ombudsman, who highlighted the need for a new technological humanism to establish digital rights as human rights. For his part, Pablo Martín, undersecretary of the Ministry of Science and Innovation, underlined the importance and leadership of Catalonia and Barcelona in the field of AI.

The first round table focused on the realities and limits of artificial intelligence and an analysis of positive and negative incidents, with their impact on the our rights. During the session, Andreas Pottakis, Greek Ombudsman, emphasized that AI can become a limit to freedom of expression to the extent that it can make decisions for us and change the way we live. Along these lines, it is essential to secure trust as a key point. In addition, Carina Lopes, Head of the Digital Future Society Think Tank, set goals for AI adoption: regulatory action, public innovation and citizen support.

In the second session of the seminar, From Analogic to Digital Society, the elements were identified as fundamental pillars of system of freedoms and rights, that is the exercise of democracy. During the session, Renata Ávila, Executive Director of the Ciudadano Intelligente Foundation, entrusted ombudsmen with the task of being pioneers of the future, setting the legal foundations for AI. In addition, José María Lassalle, director of the ESADE Technology Humanism Forum, spoke of the importance of a new generation of rights to soothe the negative effects of technological evolution. Daniel Innerarity, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country and a member of the Iberbasque Foundation for Science, talked about algorithms and their inevitable biases.

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

The first part of the round table “Rights, challenges, fundamental issues. International institutions and definitions” dealt with the sectorial approach by applying the theory and debate from previous sessions to the different subjects that affect our society. For example, in the field of health, Josep Maria Argimon, Managing Director of the Catalan Health Institute, explained the importance of complying with data standards for good practices: he considers that they must be valid, not biased, transparent and respectful. Ángel Gómez de Ágreda, aviation colonel and head of the Geopolitical Analysis Area of ​​the Secretariat of Defense Policy of the Ministry of Defense, in cybersecurity, suggested that the algorithms reflect us as we are, and this fact it scares us On the other hand, Liliana Arroyo, expert in digital transformation, exposed the discriminations of the application of AI as an amplifier of the social imaginary and Itziar de Lecuona, Deputy Director of the Bioethics and Law Observatory, stated the anonymity of society and the importance of protecting people through their data.

With regard to international treaties, the differing views of the representatives of European agencies whose mission is to protect and enforce their rights were presented. Gregor Strojin, President of CAHAI (Council of Europe's Ad Hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence), stated that not everything that is feasible in technology is acceptable from a human rights perspective. Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, Advisor to the European Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, gave a positive view by stating the full potential of AI for human rights and Peter Bonnor, Senior Legal Officer at The European Ombudsman, encouraged the opportunity to participate in legislating on AI. Martha Stickings, of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), emphasized the validity and enforceability of treaties and laws in the voluntary nature of codes of ethics.

The last session of the seminar, focusing on the roles, challenges and opportunities for ombudsman institutions, discussed different views and experiences of ombudsman across Europe. During the session, Quirine Eijkman, vice president of the Dutch Institute for Human Rights, called on ombudsmen to get more involved in AI and algorithmic analysis. Rob Behrens, UK Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said that they are not yet comfortable in his country using AI and that it is necessary to advance in the potentialities that can offer. And Eric Houtman, Belgian federal ombudsman and a member of the NEON, focused on AI related to energy needs and its benefits in this regard.

The conclusions were drawn by Ulises Cortés, Professor and Senior researcher at the UPC, Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) with moderator Catherine De Bruecker, Belgian Federal Ombudsman. Cortés emphasized the benefits of AI and encouraged its use as an extension of human skills, underlining the importance of the private sector in implementing ethical policies in AI that integrate human rights to ensure people’s safety.

Rafael Ribó, Catalan Ombudsman, emphasized that the concept of human rights goes beyond the law and praised the IOI for the path it is taking in the field of human rights and artificial intelligence. Daniel Marco, Director General of Innovation and Digital Economy of the Government of Catalonia, synthesized the concept of AI as a common good, transparent and good for people.

The first Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights organized by the Catalan Ombudsman and the IOI managed to bring together institutional speakers, experts, ombudsmen and representatives of human rights structures to reflect on and express different points of view on artificial intelligence, always prioritizing the human factor and the importance of human rights. The Catalan Ombudsman thanked all the collaboration received by the BSC-CNS (Barcelona Supercomputing Center) and the Digital Future Society (of the Mobile World Capital), as well as the sponsorship by La Caixa.

Schedule in pdf
Link to the seminar's photobook