History and Politics

AUP Professors Appointed Co-Chairholders for a UNESCO Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights


At the heart of UNESCO’s latest collaboration with The American University of Paris (AUP), Professors Claudia Roda and Susan Perry are working to create an environment that addresses Artificial Intelligence (AI) developments within a governance structure and regulatory system founded on the International Human Rights Framework. AUP Professors Perry and Roda have been newly appointed as the UNESCO Co-Chairholders for a UNESCO Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights. 

“This chair appointment consolidates years of collaboration with UNESCO,” said Professor Perry, who specializes in international human rights law and is a professor in the Department of History and Politics, and directs both the Master’s in International Affairs and the Master’s in Diplomacy and International Law. Earlier in her career, Professor Perry received the 2002 UNESCO International Women’s Day prize for her book entitled Eye to Eye: Women Practising Development Across Cultures, written in collaboration with former AUP President Celeste Schenck. 

“Our collaboration will involve many international collaborative actions in the interests of implementing the Ethics of AI principles stipulated in UNESCO’s recommendation on the Ethics of AI and progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Professor Roda, whose background is in artificial intelligence, and who directs the Master’s in Human Rights and Data Science and serves as a professor in the Department of Computer Science, Mathematics and Environmental Science. 

The UNESCO Chair establishment is for a renewable, four-year agreement. As newly awarded Co-Chairholders, Professors Roda and Perry join the ranks of roughly 900 UNESCO chairs and UNITWIN Networks worldwide in 125 countries within the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs Programme (of which only 22 UNESCO chairs have been established at US universities) at a critical time for the advancement of discussions regarding the intersections between artificial intelligence and human rights. This is the first US UNESCO Chair in AI and Human Rights, which will cooperate with the other 20 UNESCO Chairs and UNITWIN networks in AI. 

AUP President Sonya Stephens reflected on the importance of the partnership for both AUP and this emerging field. “It is a richly deserved honor for Claudia Roda and Susan Perry, and I am truly delighted to see their outstanding and important work recognized in this way. This collaboration with UNESCO and the UNITWIN Network provides an important platform for the dissemination of ideas and innovation. I am sure that their expertise and commitment, and their decades-long dedication to their respective fields, will make a significant contribution. AUP is proud to be at the forefront of advancing research, policy and advocacy on topics related to AI, technology, and human rights in partnership with UNESCO.” 

Building on AUP’s longstanding relationship with UNESCO, the UNESCO Chair at AUP will continue to strengthen community engagement with students, staff, faculty and the public through workshops, conferences and other activities to address complex issues related to the rise of advanced technology and pressing ethical concerns. 

Reducing the digital divide, protecting human rights defenders, and advancing children’s literacy remain focal research areas for both Professors Roda and Perry. “AI offers many possibilities for both advancing and impeding human rights. Collaborating with UNESCO is important because it will give us the possibility to explore a vision of AI development that embraces diverse perspectives to promote peace, justice, and fairness for all,” said Roda. 

Continuing decades of research with emerging AI technologies, ethical data collection and human rights issues, Professors Perry and Roda’s work has focused on the protection of vulnerable populations. Their work extends globally, currently including collaborative projects with civil society organizations in African and Asian countries. 

“All of our partners on the ground are people we know well and with whom we’ve built quite a lot of trust over time. Our goal is to come in, listen and try to offer solutions,” said Professor Perry, who is also a member of the French National Human Rights Commission. 

For 25 years, Perry has collaborated with Tostan, a Senegalese NGO, working with 8,000 villages across the African continent. Tostan helps to champion digital literacy by drafting human rights charters in local languages and works to develop AI software and data protection to support remote rural workers, women, and children. AUP alumna Karen Slosberg G‘13 has been instrumental in supporting both Tostan and the UNESCO Chair. Perry and Roda’s civil society partnership in Cambodia focuses on using AI for ethical data collection and training programs, impacting 3 million people across communities in the Mekong Delta area at risk of losing their livelihoods due to climate change. 

Professors Perry and Roda are also involved in a recent initiative with their students to design software to improve child literacy and access to books for disadvantaged children in the US. One important aspect of this project is the protection of the data produced by children when they interact with AI systems. Professor Roda, who serves on the Research Advisory Board of the International Association for Privacy Professionals, highlights the importance of engaging the for-profit sector and leveraging existing, long-term collaboration on issues of privacy and data protection. 

Several members of the AUP community will be key partners to the work of the new UNESCO Co-Chairholders, including the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention and the AMICAL consortium, which was founded and hosted by AUP with 27 American-style liberal arts institutions in 21 countries across Europe, Central and Southern Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. 

Foundational to this UNESCO Chair establishment are knowledge-sharing and public engagement, establishing thought leadership on the future of AI and its social impact, and joining educators, leaders, and advocates from across disciplines to provide quality reflection on important global issues. 

Professor Roda believes that “this partnership is important because it recognizes that technology and AI can contribute enormously to the advancement of humanity but can also increase divides, perpetuate biases, and threaten human dignity. Addressing these issues requires international multi-stakeholder collaboration; for this reason, we are honored to support the work of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences sector.”