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The growing importance of AI policies

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The race for policies to regulate the use of artificial intelligence is accelerating further: from AI-controlled weapons to discrimination caused by algorithms trained with biased datasets, the problems of incorrect use of this technology are increasingly obvious.

Humans have the right to know when and how Artificial Intelligence can significantly influence their lives. AI is playing an increasingly important role in human choices and behaviours. Social media ads can drive our preferences, influence our values and even shape our relationships. Facial recognition and other AI-based surveillance mechanisms help authoritarian regimes to achieve levels of control over the population that were unthinkable even a decade ago. Datasets biased for ethnic and gender prejudices cause automatic application screening systems to exclude entire segments of candidates from job selections.

These are just a few examples of what happens when technology is not used properly. Artificial intelligence, like any other technological development, is not evil or destructive per se. It still has tremendous potential, and the countless advantages that its use has brought to society as a whole can’t even be listed. The root of the problem is much deeper and lies in the endemic slowness with which policymakers and legislators react to change. Technology is currently evolving at such a pace that any effort by current institutions to regulate its use is obsolete by the time it is enforced. Just think how long it took for the GDPR rules, published in 2016, to be fully deployed so that Europe could reap the benefits.

We must learn to plan well in advance. We cannot allow technological developments to take us by surprise, circumventing the rule of law and eroding citizens’ freedom as already happened due to the digital transition. While it’s not easy to imagine framework regulations that can guide future technological developments, the activity is crucial to the future of our democracies and our rights. We have built shared values that unite our cultures, so it’s up to us to ensure that data-driven technology respects and protects them.

Like any other disruptive technology, from ironworking to nuclear energy, artificial intelligence also has two sides: we can use it to build swords or ploughs, tools to diagnose tumours in advance or atomic bombs. It just depends on us. Such a struggle must be addressed in a multilateral setting because the digital and interconnected world we have built makes regulatory efforts at the local level useless or inapplicable. Therefore, it is very important that the actions initiated through the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, inaugurated last September, continue on the path of implementing “AI systems that are innovative and trustworthy and that respect universal human rights and shared democratic values“.

However, we also urgently need to reflect on how to adapt technology to our values so that the opposite does not happen: we cannot allow technology to forge the principles of the generations that will follow us. The crucial choices that our generation is called upon to make will influence the future of the rule of law, democracy, and freedom in Europe.

Re-Imagine Europa’s Task Force on “Democracy in a Digital Society” aims to envision a model that allows us to preserve our shared values of freedom, democracy, equality, human rights and peace, adapting society and institutions to the needs emerging from the digital revolution. Depending on how it is used, artificial intelligence could help us solve several of the global problems that cast shadows on the future of humanity or accelerate the mad rush to destroy our ecosystem. On which planet will future generations live? What world do we imagine for our descendants?