So You Want to Prevent a Dystopia?

So You Want to Prevent a Dystopia?

When it comes to artificial intelligence there's good news and bad news. On the plus side, AI could save millions of lives a year by putting robots behind the wheels of cars or helping scientists discover new medicines. On the other hand, it could put you under surveillance, because a computer thinks your recent behavior patterns suggest you might be about to commit a crime.

So, how to reap the benefits and avoid the dystopia? It's a question of how AI systems are built, what companies and governments do with them, and how they handle basic problems of privacy, fairness, and accountability. Here's a quick rundown of how different countries (or groups of countries) are approaching the challenge of putting ethical guardrails around AI.


The European Union is trying to do the same thing in AI that it's already done on digital privacy: Putting citizens' rights first – but without scaring off the tech companies that can also deliver AI's benefits. A new set of ethical guidelines published this week gives AI engineers checklists they can use to make sure they are on the right track on issues like privacy and data quality, though it stopped short of blacklisting certain applications. Toothy regulation this is not, but just getting these ethical questions mapped out on official EU letterhead is a start. Although the guidelines are voluntary, one of the architects behind the bloc's data privacy policies has argued that legal heft will eventually be required to keep AI safe for people and to uphold democracy.

The US, meanwhile, is taking its usual hands-off approach. The Trump administration has asked bureaucrats to develop better technical standards for "trustworthy" AI, but it doesn't directly broach the subject of ethics. But in the private sector there's been progress: the IEEE, an international standards organization, recently dropped a 300-page bomb of "Ethically Aligned Design" thinking, which lists eight general principles that designers should follow, including respect for human rights, giving people control over their data, and guarding against potential abuse. Still, it's a thorny challenge. Google's AI ethics board was recently scuttled after employees objected to conservative board member's views on transgender rights and immigration.

Then there's China, where bureaucrats are wrestling with ethical issues like data privacy and transparency in AI algorithms, too. Like the EU, China wants to get out front on global regulation – partly because it thinks its internet companies will grow faster if it can set standards for AI, and partly because Beijing doesn't want a rerun of the situation from 30 years ago when other counties set the rules of the road for the internet first. But while China may share European views on policing bias in algorithms, there is likely to be a sharper difference on issues like privacy, "moral" or "ethical" definitions in the AI world, and how ethics norms should be enforced.

The bottom line: Defining and enforcing acceptable boundaries of AI is a long term challenge, but the guardrails that governments and industry put in place early on may determine whether we're heading for a new era of human progress or a mash-up of Blade Runner and Minority Report.

Yau Abdul Karim lives and works in Garin Mai Jalah, located in the Yobe State of northeastern Nigeria. Essential to his work raising cattle is reliable access to water, yet environmental degradation has led to fewer water sources, severely impacting communities like his that depend on livestock. In 2019, with the help of FAO, Eni installed a special solar-powered well in Yau's town that provides water during the day as well as light at night.

Watch Yau's story as he shows how his family and community enjoy life-enhancing access to both water and light.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And I thought I'd talk a little bit today about the latest in Israel, Palestine. It's obviously been driving headlines all week. And of course, on social media, there's no topic that we all get along and agree with each other more than Israel, Palestine. It's an easy one to take on. Yeah, I know I'm completely full of crap on that. But I thought I would give you some sense of what I think is actually happening where we're going. So first point, massive fight, big conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli defense forces. Not only that, but also more violence and a lot of violence breaking out between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Extremists on both sides taking to the streets and fairly indiscriminate violence, in this case, worst since 2014.

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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, says another independence referendum for Scotland is now a matter of "when not if," and that after leaving the UK, Scotland will launch a bid to rejoin the EU. But there are formidable obstacles ahead.

Getting to a vote will force a complex game of chicken with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. If a majority of Scots then vote for independence — hardly a sure thing – the process of extricating their new country from the UK will make Brexit look easy. Next, come the challenges of EU accession. In other words, Scotland's journey down the rocky road ahead has only just begun.

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Cyber is a tool, and sometimes a weapon. Whether espionage for commercial gain or indiscriminate attacks on critical infrastructure, actions taken in cyber space affect you directly, potentially upending even the most mundane realities of everyday life.

Join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens in a Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event on Tuesday, May 18.

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According to Delhi-based journalist Barkha Dutt, while the Indian government has finally started to mobilize in response to the COVID crisis, there's still a lot of denial about the severity of the ourbreak. "Our Health Minister, for instance, made a statement in the last 24 hours saying that India is better equipped to fight COVID in 2021 than in 2020. That's simply rubbish. We had India's Solicitor General telling the Supreme Court that there is no oxygen deficit as of now. That's simply not true." In an interview on GZERO World, Dutt tells Ian Bremmer that only the connection between fellow Indians, helping each other when the government cannot, has been a salve.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

Listen: Ask national security experts how they view China today and they'll likely the use a term like "adversary" or "economic competitor." But what about "enemy?" How close is the world to all-out-war breaking out between United States and China? According to US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), who served as Supreme Allied Commander to NATO, those odds are higher than many would like to admit. In fact, Stavridis says, the US risks losing its military dominance in the coming years to China. And if push comes to shove in a military conflict, it's not entirely clear who would prevail. Admiral Stavridis discusses his bestselling new military thriller 2034 and makes the case for why his fictional depiction of a US-China war could easily become reality.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's the issue with the letter in France talking about the "civil war"?

Well, I think it is part of the beginning of the French election campaign. We have some people in the military encouraged by the more right-wing forces, warning very much for the Muslim question. That's part of the upstart to the election campaign next year. More to come, I fear.

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When asked about where a US-China war may start, US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) doesn't hesitate: Taiwan. He suggests that China may believe the US is distracted by internal politics: "I think it would be a miscalculation on the part of the Chinese, but they may calculate that now is the moment." How would a move against Taiwan play out? Stavridis speculates how the Chinese military may plan to invade the island on the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which begins airing on US public television Friday, May 14. Check local listings.

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace. Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT/ 1pm ET

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace | Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT / 1 pm PT

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal