IS THERE A WAY TO STOP TECHNOLOGIES WHICH BREACH (OR MAY BREACH) HUMAN RIGHTS?

(originally published on ODBMS.org)

The European Parliament voted on Sept. 8 a report presented by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats focusing on human rights and technology in third countries. In it, the EU Parliament claims that the Union should take a clear stance against those authoritarian regimes which use spying and hacking technologies to violate human rights. In order to do so they should lead in preventing this kind of technologies from falling into the wrong hands.
In the same day, the Parliament amended a Commission’s initial proposal to ban animal cloning to include the cloning of all farm animals, their descendants and products derived from them, including imports into the EU.

What do so different topics have in common?
They expect to have an impact on technology, or the use of technology.

Every year, the level of concern about the possible use of new technology raises exponentially: artificial intelligence, big data, drones, space race, not to speak about genetics or nanotechnologies (and being a lawyer I stop here, I’m sure my little list sounds poor and even silly to scientists).
Could we ever expect to stop technological evolution? And would it be something good?
The answer is clearly “no” to both the questions.
Technologies are the new borders of humanity exploration: pushing the limit to expand knowledge is in our very nature and enhancing human well-being through technological improvement is a moral obligation, especially where it is desperately needed.

But, how could we make sure that knowledge goes hand in hand with wisdom? How to avoid that the final result of this quest is nothing but self-destruction?

We face here two different problems, both difficult to solve: the How and the Who.

I. How the development of new technologies could be scrutinized in order to stop the research addressing wrong goals (goals of destruction of people or planet or control over other human beings)? How to avoid the misuse of technology which could have peaceful and fruitful applications?

II. Who should be in charge to do so?

First of all, an assumption seems inevitable: there isn’t much we can do at national level, not even at continental level. It’s even too easy, nowadays, to move a lab or a factory from one country to another, to shop among legal systems just to find the most accommodating (or the most interested) one. Even without moving, the product or the patent which is the outcome of a research can easily be sold abroad.

About the “how”, I doubt any international treaty could be effective. Too long negotiating processes, too difficult to verify the real implementation. Most of all a lack of flexibility in its content would make it immediately outdated. By the way, how many treaties should we need?

The only way to address the point is in identifying an evaluation body, in charge of screening in “the interest of humanity”.
And here comes the “Who” problem.

I don’t think that academic records or prizes and accomplishments would be enough to choose somebody for such a sensitive position. A clear commitment in the interest of humanity is needed for the members of such a value-centered group.
There are actually some bodies of scientists or experts in the UN, as the Commission on Science and Technology for Development, whose members are appointed by national governments according to a geopolitical distribution.

I am not sure this is the best formula (and I’m not sure to know the best formula), but I think that it should be possible to agree on some basic key points:

  • High profile of members (both ethical and scientific) recognized at global level;
  • Pluralism and diversity (and of course gender equality);
  • A transparent appointing process (by whom? The UN General Assembly? Or involving the same scientific community?)
  • Affiliation with a global organization or agency able to endorse and give authority to recommendations.

I don’t think that such a body should enter into details of single projects, but It could take charge of deep evaluation in areas of concern, to be submitted by states, international organizations or NGOs.
These are nothing but early reflections on a topic which I hope will be developed over the next months and years.

The scientific community – both academic and entrepreneurial- is called to join this debate and to be at the forefront in guaranteeing its own integrity in the interest of humanity.

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