UNESCO conference on “Principles for AI: Towards a humanistic approach?”


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

4 March 2019 - Paris, France

(As prepared for delivery)


Dear Director General, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is always a pleasure for me to be at UNESCO.  Over the last 70 years, the OECD and UNESCO have been key actors in a multilateral system that has fostered global co-operation on issues critical for the advancement of our societies and economies.

Now, in an era of rapid digital transformation, this system of leadership, co-operation and engagement is more crucial than ever. We have to work together to make this transformation a driver of inclusive and sustainable growth.

Today’s conference looks at a key aspect of that digital transformation: Artificial Intelligence. It examines how to bring human-centred values, inclusion and well-being to the heart of AI. In other words, how to make AI less artificial and more intelligent.


The countless benefits of AI

AI is reshaping economies, facilitating better lives and helping people make better predictions and decisions.

It is already present in our everyday lives. The smartphone in your pocket can use AI to detect possible health issues, or speech recognition to offer on-the-spot translation.

Investment in AI reflects the optimism people have for this technology. AI start-ups attracted over 12% of all worldwide private equity investments in the first half of 2018.

At the same time, AI technologies are still in their infancy. Much potential remains to be fulfilled, particularly in the service of people and the planet.

AI also brings challenges and uncertainties

All the more reason to think carefully about how to ensure responsible stewardship of AI. We have to get this right, because while AI is driving optimism, it is also fuelling anxieties and ethical concerns.

In particular, there are questions around the trustworthiness of AI systems, including the dangers of codifying and reinforcing existing biases – such as those related to gender and race – or of infringing on human rights and values such as privacy.

We must ensure we avoid establishing automatised discrimination in hiring processes, for example, or in the criminal justice system. We need to design AI systems that are transparent and accountable.


The OECD is contributing to define the rules of the game

No single country or category of actors has all the answers to these challenges. We need a global multi-stakeholder response to a global issue.

In 2018 the OECD formed an expert group to scope a set of principles to facilitate innovation, adoption of and trust in, AI. Just a few weeks ago in Dubai, that group reached agreement on the core values and actions required – an immense achievement, which is inspiring our work on an OECD Recommendation for adoption by governments.

The Recommendation will represent a global reference point underpinning responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI. At its core is a focus on inclusive, sustainable growth and well-being, human-centred values and fairness, transparency, robustness and accountability. It will identify critical actions by governments, including investment in AI research and development, fostering of digital and innovation ecosystems, and an agile policy environment, building human capacity and preparing for job transformation.

Importantly, the principles also call for international co-operation. We must progress together on AI-related technical, ethical and legal issues, to foster alignment of standards and codes of conduct, and inter-operability of laws and regulations.

We are already bringing our measurement and analytical expertise to bear. This year we will establish an AI Policy “Observatory”, a participatory hub that will help provide national governments with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions.

Our goal is to ensure consistency and complementarity between OECD work and other international initiatives, including under the G20 and G7, the European Commission, organisations such as the IEEE, and the UN, including importantly UNESCO itself. Our Observatory will seek to combine the resources of the OECD with partners from other international organisations and stakeholder groups.

This could be a vehicle for the OECD and UNESCO to collectively support a Franco-Canadian initiative to form an “International Study Group on Artificial Intelligence”, leveraging our mutual expertise on ethical, technical and scientific issues on AI, as demanded by President Macron last year at the Internet Governance Forum.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Masayoshi Son, the founder of Soft Bank said of AI, “If we misuse it, it’s a risk. If we use it in good spirits, it will be our partner for a better life.” We at the OECD very much agree with him. That’s why we are partnering with organisations like UNESCO to produce new principles and platforms for reflection, as well as better AI policies for better lives.

We look forward to working with you all. Thank you.



See also:

OECD work on Science and Technology


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