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Towards a democratically upgraded artificial intelligence

Towards a democratically upgraded artificial intelligence

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– Updated : 21 May 2019 –

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on 12th February 2019 on a comprehensive European industrial policy on artificial intelligence and robotics.

In this text, the Parliament stresses that “the malicious or negligent use of AI might … pose a risk to democracy and fundamental rights. It also calls for the European Commission to act against so-called ‘filter bubbles’ caused by AI-powered platforms, proposing a legal framework that “penalises perception manipulation practices when personalised content or news feeds lead to negative feelings and distortion of the perception of reality.

Beyond concerns about AI, the European Parliament also welcomes AI’s potentially positive impacts on future democratic debates through “the setup of AI-based participative platforms allowing citizens to be successfully heard and to interact with governments by making proposals, including through participatory budgets and other instruments of direct democracy”.

As researchers Paulo Savaget (University of Cambridge), Tulio Chiarini (Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia, Rio de Janeiro) and Steve Evans (University of Cambridge) concluded: “the emerging context of governmental open-data and online open-source repositories for coding projects are likely suited to enable the proliferation of AI-based technologies for political empowerment (…). They can enable civil society to participate in political affairs without requiring physical groupings of individuals”.

The capability of AI to support participatory debates involving all strata of society has already been shown in the private sector, through social networks. These networks have many shortcomings, one of them being that they are financed through advertisements, including political ones of any kind, but one of their great advantages is that, despite some malfunction of technical and human nature, they aim to involve everyone.
Social, media platforms have access to masses of data about their users, and recent scandals raised questions about some problematic issues linked to targeted messaging, fragmentation of debates, outside interference and automated bots.

Is AI going to change democracy? Does it begin to control human lives?

Is AI going to change democracy or even control human lives? This is not likely to happen, according to MEP María Teresa Giménez Barbat: “AI consists of mathematical algorithms limited to searching for patterns: the belief that AI may lead to robots wishing to dominate the world has no basis in reality, but is mere science fiction”.

Nicolas Spatola, researcher at the CNRS Laboratory of Social and Cognitive Psychology, University of Clermont Auvergne in France: “Technology is not just acceptance but also represents a coevolution paradigm. We evolve through technology that changes our behaviours, and these new behaviours create new technologies. Now, for positive coevolution, there is a need for mutual profit between human and technology. Mutual profit only works through an understanding of the other part. The changes needed in education must start from a very early age and must be guided by a political will”.

Many are convinced that democratic institutions must be active in supporting AI, and in keeping it in check, so that those who develop AI-powered tools do so with respect for human rights and democratic principles and with ethical principles in mind. The European Parliament, in its resolution of 12 February 2019, takes this duty seriously, stressing ‘that European standards for AI must be based on the principles of digital ethics, human dignity, respect for fundamental rights, data protection, and security, thus contributing to building trust among users’. ‘(…) the guiding ethical framework should be based on (…) existing ethical practices and codes’.

Mark Dubrulle, President of the Club de Rome – EU Chapter: “I wish to stress the special duty of the EU, particularly of the European Parliament : There is a European way of thinking about values and ethics that is unique in the World. We have a duty to develop and share it. It should be embedded in a new Enlightenment. The USA are leading the way towards future Artificial Intelligence, beneficial for all. But they are mainly business and money-driven. As for China, they are not a democracy, they may not take the needed principles into account, though they might also impose regulation more easily than other countries. To uphold democratic values in AI, Europe needs to act”.

In order to perform effectively, Europe must pursue its efforts to regulate AI, but also has a duty to rise the level of investment to that of the USA and China, as the EU cannot be merely the standard-bearer of this world-shaping technology, but should strive to become a world leader.

Useful links

European Parliament resolution on a comprehensive European industrial policy on artificial intelligence and robotics
Potential and challenges of e-participation in the European Union : a study for the AFCO Committee
Towards a digital democracy – Opportunities and challenges, EPTA Report 2018
Nicolas Spatola, L’intelligence artificielle, De la révolution technologique à la révolution sociale
Leopold Schmertzing, Democracy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, essay published in Global Trendometer
Should we fear artificial intelligence ?
Empowering political participation through artificial intelligence
Draft Ethics guidelines for trustworthy AI, European Commission


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