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.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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24-year-old Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate recounts how in 2020 she was cropped out of a photo at Davos of her with other white climate activists (like Greta Thunberg) and what it revealed about how people of color and people in developing countries, like those in Africa, are frequently excluded from the climate conversation.

Watch the episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some fun, intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

First up — what's the Refugee Team?

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the International Olympic Committee created for the first time the Refugee Team to allow those who had fled persecution in their home countries to participate in the Olympics. Up from 10 athletes in 2016, it now has 29 participants across 12 sports from conflict-ridden countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela.

A separate team of refugees will also participate at the Paralympics, both of which are managed by the IOC and the UN Refugee Agency.

Iranian-born Kimia Alizadeh, a Germany-based taekwondo champion, narrowly missed out on bronze this week, which would have been the Refugee Team's first ever Olympic medal. Follow the team here.

Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

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