Technology has become increasingly present, integrated and widespread across society. However, it is important to understand the impact on our daily lives.
Despite their transformative potential for positive change, lack of holistic thinking in the design and implementation of technology can perpetuate risks such as discrimination, inequality, and loss of agency.
It involves thorough exploration and conscious consideration of technology's values, potential unintended consequences, and negative impacts. Moreover, it entails active management, mitigation, and reduction of associated risks and harm.
Beyond technical and policy compliance, responsible technology practices embody the UN’s dedication to human rights, peace, equality, and sustainability, among other ideals. Our commitment to these practices empowers us to harness data and digital tools to improve lives while preventing unintended side-effects and potential pitfalls.
Privacy by Design
The Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) and Global Pulse co-chaired an interagency working group in 2017-18 to discuss Data Privacy. Out of this group came the Principles on Personal Data Protection and Privacy that were approved by all agencies at the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) in October 2018.
To define the way these principles are to be implemented and monitored within the UN Secretariat, OICT had led a working group to formulate a Secretary-General's Bulletin. This draft policy is currently being reviewed by the Office of Legal Affairs.
In the meantime, OICT is building practical tools that help staff implement the policy. For instance, Unite TADA, a toolkit for Secretariat data scientists, includes a service (an API) to automatically check documents or datasets for personally identifiable information (PII) and other tools to protect data privacy.
Ethical Use of AI
OICT and UNESCO co-chaired an interagency working group in 2021-22 to establish UN-wide principles for the Ethical use of AI in the organization. These principles were subsequently adopted by all agencies in the CEB (see CEB/2022/2/Add.1).
To define the way these principles are to be implemented and monitored within the UN Secretariat, OICT is leading a working group to formulate a Policy. In this policy, we intend to leverage existing governance structures such as the PRC and the Architecture Review Board (ARB).
This work is ongoing – we expect completion by the 3rd quarter 2023 and promulgation by the fourth quarter 2023.
Responsible Tech Playbook
Recognizing the importance of holistic thinking in technology design and development, OICT, in collaboration with ThoughtWorks, co-authored the Responsible Technology Playbook - Tools for the United Nations. The playbook tackles some fundamental questions and proposes challenge-driven solutions in the deployment of technology within the context of the UN.
The Playbook aims to assist teams in identifying strategies for greater inclusivity, heightened bias awareness, and transparency. It outlines methodologies and techniques that help readers pinpoint and assess problems associated with the design and development of technology. Plus, it guides users in choosing the methodology and technique most suitable to addressing their identified challenges. While the Playbook is meant for United Nations personnel, its recommended practices are suitable for any team that aims to approach the design and implementation of technology projects more holistically.