Written by: Seda Yılmaz, Mehmet Turgut, Müfit Yılmaz Gökmen, Begüm Yurttaş, Sibel Pekin, Renjani Puspo Sari, Luciano Morganti, Heritiana Ranaivoson

Artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of intelligent robots was a big hit in many movies back in the 90s. Now it is leaving the science fiction shelf and is quickly taking over many aspects of our lives. From fields like the financial sector, healthcare, education, transport, insurances, to specific applications like credit card transactions, Google translate, GPS, spam filters and Siri in iPhones, AI, or applications of it, is today pretty much everywhere even if we are not aware we are using it (or being used by it). AI is also seen as a big leap and a very profitable economic sector, so it receives more and more the attention of the public at large, the private and academic entities and governments and politics.

This rapid societal and economic uptake of AI comes with new and unforeseen challenges: what are the short and long-term effects on our society? How will AI change the dynamics of human life? How to regulate the imminent changes brought by a sector in dynamic transition and expansion? What happens and who pays the consequences if AI becomes malicious or if it simply leads to errors and mistakes?

The European Union is taking these issues seriously and has recently appointed 52 experts to the new High Level Group on Artificial Intelligence which will meet for the first time on the next 27th of June.

New dynamics that re-shaped the society

The European Union emphasizes the assessment of the impact of robotics on different occupations, trying to sustainably ensure social equality by adjusting social security system and labour laws. The European Union also emphasizes on maintaining a significant percentage of human labour with the digitization of labour market. As for civil liberties, robots and AI have the potential to improve the quality of life, but the European Union suggests precaution to be the first step in developing them. It is important to protect the balance between human-robot relations in order not to create a harmful dependence on robots. For example, benefits of robotics for disabled people and for the ones with extraordinary skills should be considered. Therefore, the present rules on privacy and data protection should also apply to AI; public and private sectors and academia should co-work to educate users and designers on the ethical implications of AI.

Everyday lives in light of AI

The European Union focuses on the use of AI in the transportation, healthcare and environment sectors. Since the use of AI in transportation is considered very effective in reducing traffic congestion, soon, most probably roads will probably be crowded by self-driving vehicles embedded in an intelligent traffic ecosystem.

As far as the healthcare sector is concerned, although the societal potential of cyber-physical systems could be advanced, liability for doctors or healthcare personnel should not be decreased because the CPS integrated into human body could be hacked or switched off. Thus, EU clearly underlines a tightening rule for AI in all fields. In order to be a benefit to the people; it is essential to make a roadmap for proper deployment.

As for the environment, reduced use of fertilizers and energy will have a positive impact, but to adopt these impacts, the European Union highlights once again the need to make processes more resource-efficient.

Finally, media is also being impacted by the development of AI, through for example the development by Reuters of AI tools capable of writing sentences and suggesting story ideas as well as data analysis. AI is also likely to play a role in the detection – but also creation – of fake news.

A new demand in the economy and the legal framework

These advancements in AI and the consequent changes they bring about in the economy of our European societies are raising questions about the protection of fundamental rights of EU citizens, privacy, personal data and intellectual property, freedom of information as well as security and safety.

The integration of robotics and AI in the field of industry and energy requires coherent development in infrastructure to protect privacy. The European Union emphasizes on an integration of robotics in industries by transforming the single market into digital single market.

With necessary regulations in societal areas, robotics could become a vital part of the European Union’s economy. The growth of AI could automate a significant number of jobs and change many work practices, processes and business models. Therefore, it is essential to devise an industrial strategy addressing the role and implications of AI in significant sectors.

The European Union also stresses the need to modernize legislation in robotics to facilitate the integration of technologies in value chains and in business models. However, it is still necessary that AI should be regulated under international standards to foster innovation and guarantee a high-level of consumer protection. Most probably AI-based algorithms should be designed with human rights and human empowerment in mind. For such an all-sectors encompassing phenomenon, most probably a multistakeholder and cooperative responsibility framework approach is necessary to go beyond a “one size fits all” approach. Also, in line with the emerging research field of Machine Ethics, a machine will have most probably to be made ethical by incorporating in themselves ethical principles corresponding and adhering to human values and principles. Whether this is possible (can a machine be built to be moral?), feasible (can an ethical machine finally make the right decisions in unknown situations? Can it be capable of unethical behaviour if computational errors occur?), and desirable, it remains a discussion society needs to make before it is too late and we realise this is already happening in different and conflicting ways.

It is clear that an ethical legal framework is needed for AI which is capable of answering ethical and societal questions and at the same time avoid hindering the development of AI while directing its development towards a shared vision in which AI is not a treat for online privacy, does not generate unemployment, and does not go against transparency.



This post is an adaptation of a similar post published in the framework of the Brussels Talking Lecture Series course taught for the Masters in New Media Societies in Europe and Journalism and Media in Europe of the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB). More posts are available at brusselstalking.blog .

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