Introducing the Australian Human Rights Institute

Well for me, human rights mean good
government. It means a system of justice where people can get a fair hearing in
the courts, it means free speech, a free press, and also means governments
delivering services in ways that respect the dignity of people and provide them
the best quality health and schools. The human rights approach to health was
enshrined in the founding document of the World Health Organisation, which was
about 70 years ago. We still have billions of people who don’t have access
to health care – safe, effective, affordable health care – and don’t have the highest
attainable standards of health. In artificial intelligence I don’t think
people really thought too much about human rights until very recently, and now
we’re handing over responsibility to machines we’re discovering that that
actually comes with some severe consequences. Whether you get the loan,
whether you get the job, and even in some cases whether you actually get locked up,
by a machine that makes the decision. So we’re realising that we have to worry
about the fairness, the transparency, all the sorts of questions that we used to
think about other humans acting on us. Electronic waste is something that’s
been a massive burden for communities globally, but I think the developing
world, particularly where people are from disadvantaged communities, have faced the
brunt of a lot of the e-waste that ends up in their backyard. That means that to
be able to use e-waste in a meaningful manner, the only solution that they see
is pretty much burning a lot of these types of waste materials to earn a
living. I think the fact that they are now almost stuck in a corner, where
the only way to earn a decent living has been through unsafe practices, is to me,
you know, a massive challenge for us as global citizens. Having a variety of
views on a topic is so informative and such a great way to get a new
perspective. Artists and designers and creative thinkers can find new ways to
address and shape and tackle some of the big questions of our day,
including these questions around human rights. I think universities have got a
really special role when it comes to human rights. So much about human rights
are subject to partisanship, political interest, vested business interests and
the like. Universities can be independent and have a fixed perspective on the
people involved. They can look for solutions free of bias and other forms
of influence, and they can really get to the heart of the problem to solve big
national and global problems in a way that safeguard and protect the community.
One example that I feel very passionate about is the use of autonomous
weapons. That we will be handing over the decision of life or death to machines,
and whether that’s morally acceptable and under what safeguards that that
happens. I, and many of my colleagues, have signed an open letter to
the United Nations, calling for a pre-emptive ban on this use of
technology. We are developing the world’s first solution that allows us to produce
valuable materials from electronic waste. Metallic and nonmetallic
materials that basically lay the foundation upon which, you know, the world
can deliver new technologies is something that I think is going to be so
crucial in actually changing the way we see we can make a difference to people’s
lives globally. Bringing together some of the smartest people around the
university into this new center is such a great idea. Being able to have
artists working with lawyers, social scientists and a whole range of
different times is such a great opportunity, When I first learnt about
the group here at the University of New South Wales, I saw there were so many
opportunities that taking that human rights perspective, understanding the
legislative components, that could really facilitate the work that we were doing
within the George Institute. And that the potential for us to do more was just
increased many times over. So I imagine that other groups are feeling much the
same way – that bringing in different perspective has the
opportunity to really enhance the work we do.

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