Retour Conference on the Importance of the Ethical and Human Rights Aspects in the Regulation of Artificial Intelligence

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Distinguished members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

The rise of artificial intelligence is reshaping how we work and live.

This advances the boundaries of our knowledge and opens up new opportunities in our societies.

But it also causes deep unease among many people.

Biometric identification, for example, creates an avenue for mass surveillance.

Technology – often patented abroad – can replace human input, creating grey areas about who is responsible for its conduct and failures.

And algorithms can profile internet users and determine what news we read, what information we see, and even what job adverts are sent our way – or withheld from our view.

People are right to be concerned.

Because these important developments raise essential human rights issues.

The European Convention on Human Rights has been ratified by every one of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states.

It applies to every aspect of life, and must be implemented fully by every government.

Together with the European Social Charter, this forms the basis of human rights in Europe today.

So, how can we ensure that AI complies with these European standards?

Many national and international actors have produced ethical principles to be applied to this complex issue.

These are important, but they do not have a common set of underlying principles, or oversight and supervisory mechanisms.

So, the Council of Europe is examining the feasibility and potential elements of a legal framework for the development, design and application of artificial intelligence, based on our standards of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

At our Ministerial Session in Hamburg last month, Ministers endorsed this approach.

They asked for a particular focus on a legal framework that might have two components.

First, a cross-cutting and binding legal instrument, based on general common principles, and on which negotiations should start by May of next year.

And, second, the Ministers also urged consideration of additional binding or non-binding instruments to address the AI challenges facing specific sectors.

For example, we are considering a binding legal instrument on autonomous vehicles and an instrument on artificial intelligence in education.

I believe that this mixed approach is the right one, and we will take further steps in the months ahead.

Our mandate and our common legal area make this possible.

But other international organisations have their own unique and important roles to play.

And it is important that our approach is complementary.

This is true of the OECD, the UN – including UNESCO – and of course the European Union.

And it was point of firm agreement in my meeting earlier this month with the European Commission’s Executive Vice President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age.

Commissioner Vestager and I were clear about the importance of keeping AI on our agenda, of protecting human rights, and of working closely in pursuit of those goals.

So, I commend the Slovenian presidency of the EU Council for taking this initiative and for bringing us together today.

On AI, and so many other matters, we are stronger together.

20 July 2021 (Recorded Message)
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