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  • Eli Szydlo

Developing Advancing Technologies with Human Rights

September 28, 2021

In recent years we have seen an exponential increase in the speed at which new technologies are developed and implemented in our day-to-day lives. Topics that were once relegated to science fiction plots are now realistic within our lifetimes. These advancements are exciting and offer significant ease to how we live, communicate, and travel. However, they raise questions as to how to balance these technologies with existing human rights and how we should expand human rights to prevent new abuses in our near future.

In the defense industry, we have seen the evolution of intelligence gathering methods and the use of autonomous weapons that keep soldiers from direct harm. While these present opportunities for nation-states to better guard themselves and their people, they have proven to present significant risks to the civil rights of citizens and cause significant collateral damage. The Snowden leaks revealed the extensive privacy issues regarding contemporary intelligence gathering utilizing the internet and raised questions about how government whistleblowers are handled. In addition, the use of drone warfare arouses questions of how to navigate the use of these weapons due to the collateral damage and civilian deaths the strikes cause. When technology begins to alter the way governments collect intelligence and use new weaponry that has a heightened risk to civilians, we have to find new methods to protect the rights of people everywhere.

Presently, we are experiencing a global pandemic that has affected the lives of everyone, no matter their race, gender, economic, or social status. While we are all experiencing this, the impact is felt in different ways, and the methods we thought we would use to combat a hypothetical pandemic have been met with limited efficacy. Yet this pandemic wasn’t a surprising event to some scientists, as those who specialize in coronavirus research have been predicting this type of outbreak for 13 years. How can we plan and work with the scientific community to develop measures and public outreach to better prepare for a future pandemic?

We also are currently facing the increasing risk of human-caused climate change. HRRC summarized one recent article regarding the increasing urgency of the climate crisis we all find ourselves in. The UN states, “Climate change threatens the effective enjoyment of a range of human rights including those to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development”. While countries are taking steps to implement measures to curtail our effect on the planet, the implementation of green energy alternatives is a difficult and expensive process that many countries may not be capable of instituting. Moreover, the costs may be considered too high to many countries. Debates range as to how we can implement these alternatives and how to convince much of the public to take action.

We are already seeing how our future may look as we watch the current billionaire space race. Elon Musk has publicized a self-imposed goal of having humans on Mars by 2026. Yet, amid this plan for colonizing Mars, Musk suggested a method for affordably traveling to Mars that directly mimics methods of indentured servitude that have been present throughout colonial histories. Even the rights of those in orbit leave questions to be answered. While the UN Outer Space Treaty exists, we continue seeing problems with implementing international law globally. As we push further beyond our world, we must preserve the rights of humans universally, not just globally.

Human rights already engage with a myriad of topics, and yet the need for ever-expanding applications and collaborations is more crucial than ever. This is especially true for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and related fields. While organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is working to integrate aspects of human rights into STEM education, there are increasingly more topics that need to be addressed. To do this, we at HRRC are working to develop collaboration between ourselves and experts in STEM and other fields to discuss advances in technology, and to find ways to balance these advances with human rights.

If you are in a field that deals with new and advancing technology and how it’s implemented, we invite you to collaborate with us in our efforts to explore how human rights can be integrated into your work.


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