Wed, Sep 18, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Legislating an ethical AI approach

By James Cooper

As the use of facial recognition continues its development around the world, governments have come in a little late to regulate the deployment of this and other technologies that use artificial intelligence (AI).

Over the past half year, there have been a few models rolled out to do this.

There is the incentivist model, which the authorities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are pursuing, as they invest in state owned-enterprises and for-profit technology companies to dominate the industry and gain strategic advantage.

The PRC uses AI technology to surveil its own citizens and even uses AI for the much-maligned social credit program it is developing.

On the other end of the spectrum is a more restrictionist model, which is pursued among some municipal governments in the US, curtailing the use of facial recognition technology in police investigations and municipal surveillance programs.

Many countries are somewhere between these two models.

There are many ethical issues that come with such emerging technology. While AI is terrific at speeding up processing, it cannot be trusted to be fair, let alone neutral, particularly in the criminal justice context.

Data sets that concern human behavior can be susceptible to bias. Machines cannot factor in racial or other human rights sensitivities. They could replicate human bias, including racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

As an example, a 2017 Stanford University laboratory study developed AI to identify gay and lesbian people. Such technology could easily become a dangerous tool in the hands of state authorities in Brunei, Iran or the many others that legislate against gays and lesbians.

Facial recognition also erodes the right to privacy.

That is in part the reason why some municipalities in the US are putting a hold on the use of AI in criminal and administrative matters.

In May, San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement and other departments. In June, the city council of Somerville, Massachusetts, followed suit when it voted 11-0 to ban the use of facial recognition technology. In July, Oakland, California, banned the use of facial recognition technologies by local government agencies, becoming the third city in the US to tackle the issue of facial surveillance head-on.

These cities are concerned about the ethics of AI and machine learning. In of the absence of state or federal guidance, cities are doing the brunt of the legislative work. A few countries and two regional organizations have gotten into the action.

While not binding, there have been in the past half year a plethora of ethical guidelines unveiled as they navigate the manner in which to best deal with AI without disrupting their respective national industrial policies.

It is not easy to balance data privacy, cybersecurity concerns and the desire to gain commercial strategic advantage in new technology industries.

There now appears to be a not just a competition among the countries who wish to dominate AI, but also among their would-be regulators.

Australia has its own draft code on ethics for AI. The UK government has a plan, too. Not to be outdone, in the middle of the Brexit debacles, the EU has its own code, released in April.

Even the country that is defending its social credit program, the PRC, has its own principles. The Beijing AI Principles, released by the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence, an organization supported by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology and the Beijing municipal government, offers 15-point principles that call for AI to be beneficial and responsible.

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