By Aoibhinn Mc Bride
In April 2021, the European Commission proposed its first regulatory framework for AI, with the hope that the final legislation will be passed by the end of this year.
At the crux of the legislation is a central theme: AI systems should be overseen by people rather than by automation to minimise risk, make it safe, transparent, traceable and non-discriminatory.
This is a sentiment echoed by Dr Patricia Scanlon, the founder of Soapbox Labs and Ireland’s first government-appointed AI ambassador, who recently delivered the opening keynote at the Dublin Tech Summit.
“It is on all of us to be able to regulate and treat it (AI) the same as climate crisis, or the pandemic or nuclear,” Dr Scanlon said.
“And that's a really provocative statement to make. But the idea here is to provoke discussion, to convey urgency, and to ensure that we don't just sit on our laurels and say, well, let’s just see what happens.”
Much of the conversation surrounding AI has centred on automation’s impact on jobs with recent data predicting that generative AI could impact as many as 300 million full-time jobs globally.
Dr Scanlon says that AI shouldn’t be considered a fad or reduced to a productivity tool as its potential and consequential impact has a far greater reach.
“It's a revolution because the innovations in AI will persist,” she explained.
“It will have an impact on society, the economy will be impacted, the global economy will be impacted and every industry will be impacted. And that's really, really important to realise where we are today.”
Unsurprisingly, there has been significant pushback to the EU’s proposed legislation from business leaders.
In an open letter, over 150 executives from companies including Siemens, Renault and Airbus and Yann LeCun, the chief AI scientist at Meta, stipulated that the new laws would “jeopardise Europe’s competitiveness… without effectively tackling the challenges we are and will be facing.”
However, Dr Scanlon emphasised the importance of taking a responsible approach, and proposed that regulation should be the foundation upon which innovation is built.
“There is this mindset, I’ve heard it a lot and I’m sure you all have, that regulation stifles innovation. If that was the case, I don’t think you’d see innovation in fintech, biotech and medtech in healthcare because they’re heavily regulated spaces, but people still manage to operate in them.”
She continued: “Misinformation and disinformation is a huge risk. We’ve seen it already on social media. Imagine doing that on scale. If we allow it to go unregulated, and nobody has to worry about misinformation, disinformation, you know, freedom of speech, whatever you want to call it, we could end up destabilising our own governments, because of the race in politics and people indiscriminately using these tools because they're not regulation.”
Objectivity is key
Another key area that Dr Scanlon highlighted was the importance of mitigating bias, particularly within educational, healthcare or workplace settings.
She referenced the Dutch government’s failed attempt to detect welfare fraud, which resulted in 20,000 people unjustly losing their benefits as the perfect example of when bias can have a detrimental effect.
“No AI is biassed. AI is made biassed by the state of the data lazily pulled from the internet or legacy data,” Dr Scanlon added.
“For instance, with the last 40 years of employment data, who got the job? We’re trying to correct that in society but if you were to take legacy data and pull that into a model, you're propagating that bias into the future.
“But if we build models right and we actually carefully design the models in the data, in the deployment, in how that makes decisions, you can actually create objective decision making as opposed to biassed decision making.”
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