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Technology and Human Rights

Artificial intelligence, automation, and the gig economy can free us from drudgery, enrich our leisure, and build societies of shared prosperity. They have equal potential to create mass unemployment, hollow-out lives, and worsen inequality.

Putting human rights at the core of this new wave of technology in global markets will help define which road we choose. This new portal will be a digital platform for dialogue and action on this choice.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Technology can be a powerful tool for human rights. Increased access to the internet and the development of social media tools have enabled activists to organise and spread their message more quickly and to broader audiences. Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, may significantly expand the availability and quality of data upon which to make informed decisions for the benefit of society. Supporters of these technologies believe that they will unleash new opportunities, increase efficiency, and help maximise human potential.

At the same time, rapid developments in artificial intelligence, automation and robotics raise serious questions about potential impacts on human rights and the future of work, as well as who will benefit and lose from their expansion. There is a risk that the use of machines to increase productivity will result in mounting inequality through downward pressure on wages and loss of jobs. The growth of the “gig economy”, facilitated by technology, has contributed to changing the nature of work by increasing the availability of flexible positions that provide opportunities for some while negatively affecting the livelihoods of others. In addition, the mass collection of data can lead to violations of the right to privacy and make it easier for governments to monitor the activities of activists.

Many of these impacts are yet unknown. Human rights organisations are currently exploring how to ensure that these technological advances can benefit all people and do not exacerbate inequality for those who are already among the most marginalised.

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