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Massimo Marelli

Head of Delegation, ICRC Delegation for Cyberspace in Luxembourg

Massimo Marelli is the Head of Delegation for Cyberspace in Luxembourg of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Massimo is a member of the Advisory Board and a Fellow of the European Centre on Privacy and Cybersecurity (ECPC) at the University of Maastricht, co-director of the Humanitarian Action Programme at ECPC, and the co-editor of the DigitHarium, a global forum to discuss and debate digital transformation within the humanitarian sector, with a focus on humanitarian protection, policy, ethics and action. He is also a member of the Brussels Privacy Hub Advisory Board, and the co-editor of the Handbook on Data Protection in Humanitarian Action. Prior to his current role, Massimo held several assignments with the ICRC in the field and at the headquarters. He also worked as lawyer at the UK Office of Fair Trading, Referendaire at the EU General Court in Luxembourg and as lawyer in private practice.

Humanity vs the Machine, or Humanity with the Machine?

Humanitarian action and conflict in the age of AI

When Henry Dunant witnessed the first-hand destruction brought by war in 1859, with over 40,000 soldiers left dead, wounded or sick on the battlefields of San Martino and Solferino he also witnessed the spontaneous and improvised action of the local villagers to their rescue, moved by the principle of humanity alone. It was the principle of humanity that also moved him and a few other men to sensitize the powers of the time to gather, and to adopt the First Geneva Convention; one of the foundations of international humanitarian law, regulating the behavior of parties to armed conflicts and stakeholders involved in other situations of violence. These rules are based on a compromise between military necessity and humanity and are meant to maintain some humanity in armed conflicts. The principle of Humanity also drives, to this day, humanitarian activities across the world and is indeed one of the Fundamental Principles that guides the action of the Movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent – the largest humanitarian network in the world. 

Today, we are seeing the development of countless applications of artificial intelligence, including in the humanitarian sector, with new tools designed to support human-decision making in humanitarian action. These include applications that provide predictive analytics, environment scanning, and community-need evaluation. In certain cases, these tools help humanitarian organizations locate communities who could benefit from humanitarian programs, or to help identify locations where humanitarian organizations should pre-deploy aid in anticipation of natural disasters or population movement. As these tools proliferate, how do we ensure that the principle of humanity remains at the core of what drives humanitarian action? Furthermore, as states develop and deploy AI-powered tools and autonomous weapons systems which can have the capability to select and apply force to targets without human intervention, how do we ensure that the principle of humanity remains effective as one of the guiding principles of regulated warfare? In this sense, our focus on Humanity is not only limited to the beneficiaries of humanitarian action programs, but to other areas of humanitarian concern – including the battlefield. Likewise, the prioritization of Humanity in the humanitarian application of AI must also address the human cost of keeping AI systems up and running. As AI-tools continue to reshape humanitarian emergency response planning, battlefield strategies, and labor market conditions, how can humanitarian organizations ensure the preservation of individual dignity and respect for the human person? What role can “human intervention” and “human control” realistically play to answer this question? Are current regulatory frameworks sufficient to address the challenges of AI in humanitarian contexts?

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