Zhou Jinfeng: From UNESCO’s Soliciting Opinions On the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence to Talk About the Comprehensive Implementation of Ecological Civilization

Recently, we discussed the comprehensive implementation of ecological civilization around UNESCO’s asking for public opinions on the ethics of artificial intelligence online globally. This includes various standard documents, normative documents and regulations, including the ethical code of artificial intelligence. How do they relate to ecological civilization? And how to practice ecological civilization in the process of formulating them?

In July 2020, China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) Biological and Scientific Ethics Working Committee (BASE) saw a notice from the official website of UNESCO that they had begun to solicit opinions virtually from the world on the ethical issues of artificial intelligence.

The CBCGDF BASE immediately carried out preliminary research and found that the first draft of the proposal on the ethical issues of artificial intelligence prepared by the UNESCO expert group had many flaws. In this regard, BASE put forward some fundamental opinions.

First of all, why are there flaws? We suspect that there are no experts in the field of biological diversity and no experts in the field of ecological civilization in the expert group on the ethics of artificial intelligence. Some people may ask what is the relationship between artificial intelligence ethics and biodiversity and ecological civilization? Of course, it does. Because the extinction of biodiversity is one of the biggest crises facing mankind, it is a threat to the survival of the entire human habitat. This means that when we formulate any scientific ethics, we should put biodiversity in the first place and cannot ignore the idea of ecological civilization.

Take the simplest example, such as a self-driving car. If there is a bird or a pet on the road, ethically, should the car slow down and avoid? Or should we first ensure that the people in the car are unharmed? This is a question of ethical order, an ethical question. This is a simple example. The ethics of artificial intelligence also has many very far-reaching effects. For biodiversity, for ecological civilization, for the choice of anything, we all need to think about how to set these basic ethical principles.

Mankind is now in a period of transformation from industrial civilization to ecological civilization, and the production, lifestyle and ethics are undergoing profound changes. For example, in the ethics of industrial civilization, all restaurants should take the initiative to provide customers with disposable tableware. For the convenience of consumers, for promotion. However, from the perspective of ecological civilization, unless consumers take the initiative to request, takeaways, restaurants, etc. should not, and they are not allowed to provide disposable tableware. This is the change in industrial civilization and ecological civilization regulations. At the ethical level, such changes are more extensive, profound and far-reaching. In this context, when UNESCO formulates proposals on the ethics of artificial intelligence, experts in the fields of ecological civilization and biodiversity should participate. Without the participation of experts in these fields, as in the production process of other standard documents, as a national-level society dedicated to advocating ecological civilization, promoting sustainable development, and protecting biodiversity and the ecological environment, we believe that this document exists major flaws.

We have submitted relevant opinions to UNESCO. Further research, we found that UNESCO’s work on this proposal is based on the preliminary research on artificial intelligence ethics carried out by UNESCO COMEST. Information on its official website shows that COMEST is currently composed of 18 experts, nominated by the Director General. But it is a pity that there are no experts from China among these 18 people. The Chinese government is an important participant of UNESCO. We suggest that the Chinese government require UNESCO to add Chinese experts in the field of ecological civilization to the composition of COMEST.

Is artificial intelligence a simple computer problem? Is it a simple mathematical problem? Not really. Artificial intelligence ethics involves many aspects, but the most fundamental aspect is civilization. The idea of ecological civilization should be implemented in artificial intelligence guidelines. This guideline document will be adopted at the 41st session of the UNESCO General Conference in 2021. Once passed, it will become a global programmatic document with profound influence on related scientific fields.

From this incident, we in turn think about the domestic standards and domestic document issues that we often encountered recently. For example, the document on forest health and maintenance issued by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration in conjunction with the four ministries and commissions mainly focuses on health issues, and does not put the idea of ecological civilization first.

The prerequisite for the establishment of any forest health care facility is that it cannot have a negative impact on the ecological environment. First of all, it is necessary to fully conduct continuous, adequate, preliminary, and various links of monitoring and observation from the perspective of ecological civilization protection. These should serve as the guiding core and foundation of the whole work. Now these tasks are not sufficient. At the same time, these documents did not fully inform the human destiny and human health in accordance with the ecological civilization thought, for example, the existence of viruses, germs, wildlife, wild animals and plants in the forest will have a negative impact on the humans. Such miniature warnings and possible research are insufficient.

In addition, we have made many suggestions regarding the excessive packaging of moon cakes. The current national standard for “moon cakes” packaging should be revised. We require more clear and strict definitions and requirements in the moon cake packaging standards. For related work, we hope that in the era of ecological civilization, in the process of formulating various standards, systems, and regulations, all participating experts should seriously study the ideas of ecological civilization.

In major decision-making, experts in the field of ecological civilization, biodiversity and sustainable development should be fully absorbed in the early stage, and these experts should be involved, so that the decision can be continuously improved.

It is believed that UNESCO’s normative documents on the ethical issues of artificial intelligence can be improved with everyone’s participation. It’s also hoped that more standard documents, normative documents, and regulations will fully take into account ecological civilization and practice ecological civilization. Only in this way can it help mankind achieve sustainable development, build a community with a shared future for mankind, and truly participate in global environmental governance.

Original Chinese article:


By / Zhang Daqian Modified / Maggie






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