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All member states of UNESCO adopt a first-of-its-kind global agreement that defines common values and principles to ensure the healthy development of artificial intelligence

In brief

On 25 November 2021, the United Nations (UN) announced that all 193 member states of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), including Singapore, adopted a first-of-its-kind global agreement on the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). The agreement focuses on the broader ethical implications of AI systems in relation to education, science, culture, communication and information; and articulates common values and principles to assist in the creation of legal infrastructure for the healthy development of AI. 


  1. Key takeaways
  2. In more detail

Key takeaways

The rise of AI is well documented. AI is present in everyday life, where UNESCO has recognized that AI supports the decision-making of governments and the private sector; and helps to combat global problems such as climate change and world hunger.

As AI becomes increasingly used and relied upon, it is likely that further standards and regulations will emerge as governments and agencies begin to pay more attention to the development of AI.

Relevant stakeholders are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the common values and principles set out in the UNESCO agreement as they would likely be relied upon as guidance for future standards and regulations. 

In more detail

While the UN has lauded AI’s functions in everyday life, from booking flights to steering driverless cars and being used in specialized fields such as cancer screening, UNESCO has rightly identified that AI technology is bringing about unprecedented challenges.

Challenges brought about by the use of AI include increased gender and ethnic bias; significant threats to privacy, dignity and agency; dangers of mass surveillance; and increased use of unreliable AI technologies in law enforcement. 

The agreement aims to guide the development of the necessary legal infrastructure to ensure the ethical development of AI by providing a global normative framework, while giving member states the responsibility to apply the framework at state level.

In particular, the agreement provides a framework that articulates common values and principles such as the protection and promotion of human dignity and fundamental freedoms; diversity and inclusiveness; living in harmony and peace; safety and security; sustainability; privacy; and fairness and nondiscrimination.

Further, the agreement identifies corresponding policy actions through which member states can operationalize the values and principles identified in the agreement. Such policy actions include ethical impact assessments; data policies and data governance strategies; and international cooperation in discussions of AI-related ethical issues. 

The full press release by the UN can be accessed here and the global agreement can be accessed here.  


Andy Leck is the managing principal of Baker McKenzie.Wong & Leow. Mr. Leck is recognised by the world’s leading industry and legal publications as a leader in his field. Asian Legal Business notes that he “always gives good, quick advice, [is] client-focused and has strong technical knowledge for his areas of practice”. Alongside his current role as managing principal, Mr. Leck has held several leadership positions in the Firm and externally as a leading IP practitioner. He currently serves on the International Trademark Association's Board of Directors and is a member of the Singapore Copyright Tribunal.


Ren Jun is an associate principal of Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow. Ren Jun extensively represents local and international intellectual property-intensive clients in both contentious and non-contentious IP matters, such as anti-counterfeiting; civil and criminal litigation; commercial issues; regulatory clearance; and advertising laws. Ren Jun also advises on a wide range of issues relating to the healthcare industries. These include regulatory compliance in respect of drugs, medical devices, clinical trials, health supplements and cosmetics; product liability and recall; and anti-corruption. Ren Jun is currently a member of the Firm's Asia Pacific Healthcare ASEAN Economic Community; Product Liability and Regulatory Sub-Committees.


Arwen is a local principal in the Firm's Intellectual Property and Technology (IPTech) Practice Group in Singapore. She is a member of the Law Society of Scotland, and has been admitted to practice in Scotland since 2004. Arwen worked as an intellectual property and technology lawyer in the UK and Europe before relocating to Asia in 2014 and has since worked in both Singapore and Hong Kong, advising on matters across both Asia Pacific and Europe. Arwen is recognised in Legal 500 (2020) as "commercial, pragmatic and personable" for the TMT sector.


Abe is a principal in our Singapore office. His main areas of practice include patents, trade secrets, copyright, and transactional IP for international and domestic clients. With over eleven years of legal experience as a lawyer and over ten years of technical experience as an engineer in the US and Canada, Abe is able to provide commercially oriented legal and technology-specific advice on a wide range of IP issues. Before joining our Singapore office in 2016, Abe was a lawyer in our Baker McKenzie offices in the US (where he passed the US patent bar examination and qualified as a US Registered Patent Attorney (limited recognition)) and Thailand.

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