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.

Democrats have the power to impeach Donald Trump.

After all, impeachment simply requires a majority vote of the House of Representatives, and Democrats hold 235 seats to just 199 for Republicans.

Of course, impeaching the president is only the first step in removing him from office. It's merely an indictment, which then forces a trial in the Senate. Only a two-thirds supermajority vote (67 of 100 senators) can oust the president from the White House. Just two US presidents (Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998) have been impeached. Neither was convicted by the Senate.

Many Democrats, including two of the party's presidential candidates, argue the Mueller Report and other sources of information offer ample evidence that President Trump has committed "high crimes and misdemeanors," the standard for removal from office under Article Two of the US Constitution. But the impeachment question has provoked intense debate within the Democratic Party.

Here are the strongest arguments on both sides of the Democratic Party's debate.

More Show less

Should Sri Lanka have blocked social media following the terror attacks?

That's a hard one. Misinformation spreads on social media and there's an instinct to say, "Wait, stop it!" But a lot of useful information also spreads and people get in touch with each other. So I would say no they should not have blocked it.

Are Tesla cars at risk of exploding?

There was one video from China of a parked Tesla exploding. I don't think you really have to worry about it though. I am curious to know what that video was really about.

Why do tech companies hate the census citizenship question?

Because if you ask people whether they're citizens. A lot of people will answer and you'll get bad data and the card companies need to know where they set up their operations. Good data matter to Silicon Valley.

What happened during the Space X Crew Dragon accident?

We don't know this one for sure either but one of the engines in a SpaceX test exploded. No one was hurt. Let's hope it was something to do with the way it was set up - not something deep and systematic.


And go deeper on topics like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence at Microsoft Today in Technology.

What's troubling you today? A revisionary new talk show hosted by Vladimir Putin offers real solutions to your everyday problems.

Crises create opportunities. That's the story of European politics over the past decade, and Spain offers an especially interesting case in point.

On Sunday, Spanish voters will go to the polls in the country's third national election in less than four years. Gone are the days when just two parties (center-right and center-left) dominated Spain's national political landscape. As in other EU countries, the economic spiral and resulting demand for austerity triggered by Europe's sovereign debt crisis, and then a title wave of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, have boosted new parties and players. Catalan separatists have added to Spain's political turmoil.

More Show less