With its unique mandate, UNESCO has led the international effort to ensure that science and technology develop with strong ethical guardrails for decades.

Be it on genetic research, climate change, or scientific research, UNESCO has delivered global standards to maximize the benefits of the scientific discoveries, while minimizing the downside risks, ensuring they contribute to a more inclusive, sustainable, and peaceful world. It has also identified frontier challenges in areas such as the ethics of neurotechnology, on climate engineering, and the internet of things.

AI human brain

These general-purpose technologies are re-shaping the way we work, interact, and live. The world is set to change at a pace not seen since the deployment of the printing press six centuries ago. AI technology brings major benefits in many areas, but without the ethical guardrails, it risks reproducing real world biases and discrimination, fueling divisions and threatening fundamental human rights and freedoms. AI business models are highly concentrated in just few countries and a handful of firms — usually developed in male-dominated teams, without the cultural diversity that characterizes our world. Contrast this with the fact that half of the world’s population still can’t count on a stable internet connection.

Mujeres y brecha digital

To correct this, under the leadership of UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay, and a clear mandate by our Member States, UNESCO elaborated the world’s most comprehensive international framework to shape the development and use of AI technologies. The Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence was adopted by acclamation by 193 Member States at UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2021. This comprehensive instrument was two years in the making and the product of the broadest global consultation process of expert, developers, and other stakeholders from all around the world.

Four core values of the Recommendation

Respect, protection & promotion

of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Human Dignity

Living in

peaceful, just and interconnected societies


diversity and inclusiveness

Environment and Ecosystem


A Human Rights Approach to AI

1. Proportionality and Do No Harm

The use of AI systems must not go beyond what is necessary to achieve a legitimate aim. Risk assessment should be used to prevent harms which may result from such uses.

2. Safety and Security

Unwanted harms (safety risks) as well as vulnerabilities to attack (security risks) should be avoided and addressed by AI actors.

3. Right to Privacy and Data Protection

Privacy must be protected and promoted throughout the AI lifecycle. Adequate data protection frameworks should also be established.

4. Multi-stakeholder and Adaptive Governance & Collaboration

International law & national sovereignty must be respected in the use of data. Additionally, participation of diverse stakeholders is necessary for inclusive approaches to AI governance.

5. Responsibility and Accountability

AI systems should be auditable and traceable. There should be oversight, impact assessment, audit and due diligence mechanisms in place to avoid conflicts with human rights norms and threats to environmental wellbeing.

6. Transparency and Explainability

The ethical deployment of AI systems depends on their transparency & explainability (T&E). The level of T&E should be appropriate to the context, as there may be tensions between T&E and other principles such as privacy, safety and security.

7. Human Oversight and Determination

Member States should ensure that AI systems do not displace ultimate human responsibility and accountability.

8. Sustainability

AI technologies should be assessed against their impacts on ‘sustainability’, understood as a set of constantly evolving goals including those set out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

9. Awareness & Literacy

Public understanding of AI and data should be promoted through open & accessible education, civic engagement, digital skills & AI ethics training, media & information literacy.

10. Fairness and Non-Discrimation

AI actors should promote social justice, fairness, and non-discrimination while taking an inclusive approach to ensure AI’s benefits are accessible to all.

"There is an urgent need to rebalance the situation for women in AI to avoid biased analyzes and to build technologies that take into account the expectations and needs of all of humanity".
UNESCO Director-General
Audrey Azoulay UNESCO Director-General
Artificial intelligence1

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