Advances in computing power, the availability of data and of new algorithms have led to rapid progress in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). This is “the single most influential human innovation in history,” says Archana Sinha. Deployed wisely, AI holds the promise of addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges, but it may also have destabilizing consequences on some key dimensions of economic and social life.
The Risk Posed by Global Inflation
In manufacturing, AI promises to increase productivity by extending the capabilities of humans and by helping businesses achieve more efficiency, including through direct automation, predictive maintenance, reduced downtime, 24/7 production, etc. However, as Ezekiel Kwetchi Takam rightly points out, “this automation will be deployed at the expense of some human labor whose skills will be deemed irrelevant.”
In public administration, the adoption of AI can contribute to better public services, for example, by interacting with service users through virtual assistants or by enabling smarter analytical capabilities and better understanding of real-time processes. There is a risk, however, when using data, to amplify existing biases and produce discriminatory and unethical outcomes for different individuals. Moreover, as economist Etienne Perrot explains, “by developing algorithms based exclusively on computation and stochastic data, AI substitutes statistical correlations for (human) causal relationships. The lack of conflicting interpretations inherent in AI creates a human cost that can already be observed in predictive justice.”
To mitigate these risks, Domingo Sugranyes argues, regulation is needed both “on input (quality of data, bias avoidance, data ownership, purpose of automated processes) and output (reasonability of results) rather than on software itself.” In addition, as pointed out by Perrot, any “regulation in AI must aim to keep the human factor and its responsibility at the heart of all economic, judicial and political decisions.”
While AI can have positive impacts for humanity, it seems to have raised at least as many questions as it has answered, opening Pandora’s box. To ensure that the costs, benefits and risks generated by AI are equitably shared among citizens and stakeholders while respecting democratic values and human rights, public authorities have a crucial role to play to set up such a regulatory framework. One way to do so could be “to define a specific taxation of AI that will serve to: 1) guarantee an unemployment income to those who could be called the ‘economic neglected by the technological evolution’; 2) finance their training and their professional conversion,” says Takam.
By Virgile Perret and Paul Dembinski
Note: From Virus to Vitamin invites experts to comment on issues relevant to finance and the economy in relation to society, ethics and the environment. Below, you will find views from a variety of perspectives, practical experiences and academic disciplines. The topic of this discussion is: How to prepare for AI? Does AI deserve — and, if yes, why — specific regulation, guidance or taxation ?
“…the lack of conflicting interpretations inherent in AI creates a human cost… ”
“The main challenge of artificial intelligence is twofold: On the positive side, the optimization of industrial and commercial processes (with the elimination of human intermediaries); on the negative side, on the one hand, the weakening of intra-systemic information and the concealment of risk and, on the other hand, the dehumanization of administrative and judicial relations. By developing algorithms based exclusively on computation and stochastic data, AI substitutes statistical correlations for (human) causal relationships. The lack of conflicting interpretations inherent in AI creates a human cost that can already be observed in predictive justice. Any regulation in this area must aim to keep the human factor and its responsibility at the heart of all economic, judicial and political decisions.”
Etienne Perrot — Jesuit, economist and editorial board member of the Choisir magazine (Geneva) and adviser to the journal Etudes (Paris)
“…it is urgent to define a specific taxation of AI… ”
“Artificial intelligence will increase the productivity in manufacturing while developing new areas of employment and expertise. Unfortunately, this automation will be deployed at the expense of some human labor whose skills will be deemed irrelevant for this new market. It is therefore urgent to define a specific taxation of AI that will serve to: 1) guarantee an unemployment income to those who could be called the ‘economic neglected by the technological evolution’; 2) finance their training and their professional conversion.
In public administration, AI will contribute to develop a new ‘algorithmic governance,’ defined by Muller-Birn et al as a form of governance that integrates algorithmic systems. It is therefore important to regulate this new governance dynamic by involving citizens in the process: through democratic participation, the citizen must be the evaluator and co-constructor of this new form of public service.”
Ezekiel Kwetchi Takam — PhD candidate in theological ethics of artificial intelligence at the University of Geneva
“…there is a need to educate a capacity for discernment in digital environments…”
“AI and big data are transforming areas like advertising, media, finance, insurance, manufacture, health and medicine, weather forecast, catastrophe prevention, justice administration … It is a universal purpose technological revolution with huge impact on work, culture, civil life and social structures. Regulation is needed on input (quality of data, bias avoidance, data ownership, purpose of automated processes) and output (reasonability of results) rather than on software itself. Public intervention is needed to protect competition against monopolistic practices, which is difficult because tech markets work in ways that differ from classical ones. Above all, there is a need to educate a capacity for discernment in digital environments at all levels and age groups, and to promote universal access to digital services.
Domingo Sugranyes — director of a seminar on ethics and technology at Pablo VI Foundation, past executive vice-chairman of MAPFRE international insurance group
“…it is vital to avoid the exclusive focus on economic efficiency… ”
AI comprises forms of intelligence demonstrated by machines in three different areas: 1) advanced automation; 2) computer-based central nervous system research; and 3) bridging one and two through the use of neurophysiological models in designing machines to perform practical tasks, mostly robots (see the well-known classification of James Lighthill). Already, important parts of social and economic organization have been affected by AI, and this process can be expected to continue. In addressing institutional design, it is vital to avoid the exclusive focus on economic efficiency as narrowly understood — in particular, replacing mostly but not exclusively semi-skilled and unskilled labor with machines. Innovations can already be conceived that increase the tasks ordinary workers are able to perform, for example, through new technologies allowing workers to perform tasks previously performed by more skilled people or enabling the provision of more specialized services by existing workforces.
Andrew Cornford — counselor at Observatoire de la Finance, former staff member of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), with special responsibility for financial regulation and international trade in financial services
“…AI may become the single most influential human innovation in history…”
Artificial intelligence is raising important questions for society, economy and governance. The world is on the cusp of revolutionizing many sectors through AI, but the way AI systems are developed needs to be better understood due to the major implications these technologies will have for society as a whole. In order to balance innovation with basic values, recommendations include improving data access, increasing government investment in AI, promoting AI workforce development, creating a civic advisory committee, engaging with the state to ensure they enact effective policies. These processes need to be better understood because they will have a substantial impact on the general masses soon and in the foreseeable future. AI may become the single most influential human innovation in history.
Archana Sinha — head of the Department of Women’s Studies at the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, India
*[An earlier version of this article was published by From Virus to Vitamin.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.