GZERO Media logo

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.

Bank of America's $25 million jobs initiative provides Black and Hispanic-Latino individuals access to skills and training needed for jobs of the future. Learn more about the initiative, which involves partnerships with 21 community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

More Show less

Iran's nuclear tug-of-war: Hardliners in Iran's parliament passed a bill Tuesday suspending UN inspections of its nuclear sites and giving the go-ahead to massively increase uranium enrichment unless the US lifts its sanctions by February. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani opposes the measure, saying it would be "harmful" to diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with the incoming Biden administration in the US. But Iran's parliament doesn't actually need Rouhani's approval to pass the law, and regardless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have the final say on policy – as always! If the law is passed, it will immediately raise the stakes for Biden, who takes office on January 20. Both he and Rouhani say they are keen to resume dialogue in hopes of reviving the nuclear deal, which President Trump walked out of in 2018. But just days after the architect of Iran's nuclear program was assassinated (likely by Israel with the US' blessing) the hurdles to even beginning those talks are rising fast.

More Show less

"China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy." This was the message recently conveyed by a Chinese government official on the intensifying row with its Asia-Pacific neighbor, Australia.

China-Australia relations, steadily deteriorating in recent months over a range of political disputes, reached a new low this week when Beijing posted a doctored image on Twitter of an Australian soldier holding a knife to an Afghan child's throat. Beijing's decision to post the fake image at a hypersensitive time for Australia's military establishment was a deliberate political provocation: beat Canberra while it's down.

More Show less

19.4: The Lebanese economy, waylaid by financial and political crises on top of the pandemic, is set to contract by a crippling 19.4 percent this year, according to the World Bank. Next year things hardly get better, with a contraction of 13.2 percent coming in 2021.

More Show less
Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal