Since 2018, we have seen an exponential rise in AI ethical rules in the format of ‘soft law’ whether at state level or at corporate level, while the #UNESCO has been pioneered in launching a round table consultation with member states and paving the way to a possible future International Digital Charter or A Protocol.
Author & Copyright: Virginie Martins de Nobrega, EMBA, Senior Adviser | Lawyer | Mediator | International Law, Human Rights, Public Policy & Ethics | AI 4 Good | UN SDGs
We have also seen that despite the discrepancies between countries from North to South, to Western countries to Eastern countries, there is a domino effect according to which major ethical issues and tendencies are almost simultaneously faced by every country at the same time, whatever their place in the AI race.
It was the case for the AI tracking applications and the facial recognition applications during #COVID-19, and it will probably continue because AI is questioning the equilibrium of geopolitics worldwide. It also questions our ability to face fundamental and crucial questions as of the future of multilateralism.
Below the translation of an article published in January, 2021 that highlights some trends I have foreseen in December 2020 for AI globally with some insights on the French market.
Choosing people, multilateralism and innovation for everyone
Carrying out a prospective exercise is never easy and is even less so in the current context, which reminds us of the impermanence of all things and the need to adapt with agility, both individually and collectively, while keeping a long-term vision and without giving in to the call of falsely obvious and short-term choices.
If there is one area in which the year 2021 will probably be a strategically decisive moment for States, the international scene and democracy, it is that of artificial intelligence (AI).
The speed of technological change and the massive investments made by the Asian bloc and North America over the last ten years have been more or less mitigated by a repositioning of States on the five continents through strategies that strengthen their comparative advantage: the industrial approach and investment capacity in France, the centres of excellence and attraction of talent in Qatar, the “back-office” of applications using AI in India or the strengthening of the European Union’s ethical and normative approach.
A myriad of soft law instruments have also emerged that systematise internal processes by giving them an ethical framework. Most of them are based on recurring concepts: trust, transparency, combating cognitive bias or diversity, fairness and accountability. The only thing that changes is the meaning of these words in terms of the safeguards put in place and the effectiveness of the sanction mechanisms and/or countermeasures provided for in order to remedy potentially damaging effects.
Moreover, AI has led to some standardisation of terminology across all sectors at national, regional and international levels. This terminology is inspired by the objectives of sustainable development and is based on the principles and values of international conventions and protocols, particularly those of the post-war period. In addition, multi-stakeholder “public-private” initiatives have been put in place since 2005 at the UN level with the U.N. innovation principles, relayed since 2018 by similar governmental and international initiatives.
Despite this progress, strategic, political and legal questions and issues will remain crucial in 2021, including:
1. Will the strengthening of France’s position in AI also be accompanied by the strengthening of the French model, where fundamental freedoms and human rights remain the cornerstone?
2. Beyond internal governance rules and ethics, we must continue to introduce more regulatory frameworks at national, regional and international levels. In this perspective, we must continue to lay the foundations for a future international charter or convention for a humane and humanistic AI under the auspices of the United Nations, the legitimate role of which is recognised. This instrument would also make it possible to restate the values and principles of multilateralism while shaping it in light of the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Indeed, although ethics can help to restore meaning through questioning, it can neither replace the law nor provide a sufficiently binding framework to support a virtuous cycle of innovation.
3. We must systematise detailed risk and opportunity analyses for AI applications each time these applications are extended to other sectors, to avoid AI applications that have already been tested being automatically deployed in another sector where they are not justified. Specifically, the French Data Protection Authority pointed out this requirement in its opinion on facial recognition. This should become a general and systematic principle.
4. We must strengthen public powers (where necessary), in particular through data sovereignty, and the role of intergovernmental actors to avoid a shift towards technocracy and the privatisation of certain public functions, with the consequent risks for institutional and democratic mechanisms. Not everything is a consumer good or service. Placing a social and corporate responsibility on companies that is almost equivalent to that of public entities is neither fair nor consistent with their corporate purpose. If AI accelerates the permeability of fields of competence, it also calls for greater clarity on the responsibilities and powers of everyone. In this sense, national public power and that of multilateralism must be further valorised, while avoiding being locked into the binary choice of the authoritarian state or technocracy. Both leave little room for diversity, multiculturalism and critical thinking. It is not the algorithm that must shape men, but it is rather men that must master its technology. Freedom cannot be traded in the data market.
5. To do this, we must truly integrate a social and corporate approach. Currently, despite a hint in the Villani report and some government initiatives, such as “Tech For Good”, impact analyses and analyses on the social return on investment are almost non-existent. What is the social contract in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? What is our project for society? It is easier to ask these questions beforehand than it will be to curb (if it will still be possible) the harmful effects of predictive analysis systems, for example. Only then can we speak of progress and not of technological advance.
6. Putting an end to the constant dichotomy between international conventions and protocols related to political, economic and social rights and the pursuit of profit would be more innovative. They are intrinsically complementary. It is only by building more bridges between these two fields that the project of a humane and humanistic AI will be possible and that we will be innovative and creative.
We must think of AI as an opportunity to create more consistency between sectors, strengthen our democracies and give new weight to the international multilateral system. Think of AI as a Copernican revolution that puts the people back at the centre of everything, while respecting the environment.
In 2021, let us be truly innovative by daring to be human.