Can technology help solve human rights challenges? We believe it can.

I first heard of the XPRIZE Foundation in 2004 when it awarded its first ever prize to a team that developed a reusable spaceship. It was clear that the prize was a powerful incentive to spur people to make truly innovative ideas come to life. Since then, that same incentive has been applied by other prizes that have tackled a variety of challenges ranging from healthcare, to adult literacy and lunar exploration.

When, earlier this year, I met with XPRIZE in person, it became quickly obvious there were plenty of possibilities for collaboration between Amnesty and XPRIZE to help address the world’s human rights challenges.

Amnesty International’s mission is simple: we want everyone in the world to enjoy their human rights.

Human rights are the modern embodiment of centuries-old human ideals: justice, equality, freedom and dignity. The international system that started with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights aims to protect people from discrimination, protect their rights at work, improve their access to quality food, housing and water, and protect their freedom of expression and religious choices.

Many of the freedoms that billions of people take for granted today would not have been possible without decades of hard work to codify human rights principles into law, implement them, monitor them and campaign for them to be respected and protected by governments and private bodies. Yet, there is much that still needs to be done, and it’s crucial that the methods we use to protect human rights keep pace with the times. Here are some of the human rights challenges that Amnesty is working on:

  • More than 20 million refugees have lost their homes and fled their countries because of conflicts and persecution; most of them have scant support and as a result are left destitute. Millions of refugee children receive little or no education;
  • Women and girls face discrimination at home, in schools and in the workplace. Harassment and violence in the physical world has crossed over to the digital world, pushing many away from social media and restricting the space to freely express their opinions;
  • In many countries, activists and journalists are harassed and imprisoned for speaking out against corruption and abuses of power. Their work is disrupted by unlawful surveillance and draconian laws enforced by oppressive authorities;
  • Millions of people are suffering because of conflicts in countries like Sudan and Syria; civilian homes are bombed and burned with impunity and humanitarian assistance is blocked from reaching civilians who desperately need it.

Political, economic and technological changes can create risks and opportunities for human rights. In this era of unprecedented technological advances, those who work on technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and genetic engineering have a great responsibility to ensure not only that these technologies are safe and respect people’s rights, but that they are part of the solution to today’s human rights concerns.

XPrize’s mission to encourage the development of technology to change the world for the better is an inspiring example of how this could work. Technology can play an influential and positive role in helping to tackle humanity’s problems, including the many challenges confronting human rights globally. For example, could technologies, such as artificial intelligence, help solve some of the following issues?

  • Harassment and threats of violence online – how can we track, quantify and address online harassment and violence against women and minority groups, while respecting privacy and freedom of speech?
  • Abuse against refugees and migrants – understanding how  xenophobic, racist rhetoric from public figures affect attitudes towards refugees and migrants and how these groups can be effectively protected from associated harms?
  • Tracking pollution and environmental damage, and alerting people to risks to their health early.
  • Turning noise to signal: helping human rights researchers discover evidence of abuses in an ever-growing sea of often unstructured information shared through digital channels.
  • Understanding public sentiment reliably and efficiently to more effectively mobilize people to advocate for their rights, and campaign against human rights abuses where they’re happening.

These are just a few examples. There are doubtless numerous other ways in which different technologies could help end human rights abuses and protect dignity, freedom and justice globally.  That is why we are inviting the XPrize community to consider using their expertise and knowledge to help make the dream of human rights protection for all a reality.

Follow Sherif @sherifea