Beyond a Human Rights-based approach to AI Governance: Promise, Pitfalls, Plea

Published in Philosophy & Technology, 2020,

18 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2020 Last revised: 29 Apr 2021

Date Written: February 1, 2020


This paper discusses the establishment of a governance framework to secure the development and deployment of “good AI”, and describes the quest for a morally objective compass to steer it. Asserting that human rights can provide such compass, this paper first examines what a human rights-based approach to AI governance entails, and sets out the promise it propagates. Subsequently, it examines the pitfalls associated with human rights, particularly focusing on the criticism that these rights may be too Western, too individualistic, too narrow in scope and too abstract to form the basis of sound AI governance. After rebutting these reproaches, a plea is made to move beyond the calls for a human rights-based approach, and start taking the necessary steps to attain its realisation. It is argued that, without elucidating the applicability and enforceability of human rights in the context of AI; adopting legal rules that concretise those rights where appropriate; enhancing existing enforcement mechanisms; and securing an underlying societal infrastructure that enables human rights in the first place, any human rights-based governance framework for AI risks falling short of its purpose.

Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, ethics, human rights, AI governance, AI for good

Suggested Citation

Smuha, Nathalie A., Beyond a Human Rights-based approach to AI Governance: Promise, Pitfalls, Plea (February 1, 2020). Published in Philosophy & Technology, 2020,, Available at SSRN: or

Nathalie A. Smuha (Contact Author)

KU Leuven - Faculty of Law ( email )

Tiensestraat 41
Leuven, B-3000

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