AI technologies are forecast to add USD 15 trillion to the global economy by 2030. At this moment, around the world, at least 50 countries (including the EU as a whole) have developed, or are in the process of developing a national AI strategy. Of these, 36 have (or plan to have) either separate strategies in place for public sector AI or a dedicated focus embedded within a broader strategy.
This means it is quite safe to state that artificial intelligence is far from being a novelty for most individuals around the globe. It also shows that the new technology is already impacting, to a significant extent actually, the way we act as humans in general, and as users of digital products in particular.
AI-powered tools are integrated into various businesses from different areas, ranging from retail and education, to the medical system, cybersecurity and even the defence sector. With so many advancements and considering the effort and investments that the governments put into adopting and further developing AI, it is only normal that we ask ourselves: should this be regulated? Is there a standard we should have in mind when building AI products? Should there be laws, government accountability and corporate transparency?
What is regulation and why would AI need to be regulated?
Regulation of businesses also existed in the ancient Egyptian, Indian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. Modern regulation, however, can be traced back to the 19th and 20th century, when much of the ruling in the US was handled and enforced by regulatory agencies which produced their own administrative laws and procedures under the authority of statutes.
New technologies and groundbreaking discoveries or innovations have always called for new regulations or amendments to the existing ones. And, as with any other change, opinions are divided when it comes to the benefits of regulation. Some believe it hinders progress and is an impediment to corporate and small-business profits and a waste of resources. Others see it as a great way to protect individuals or businesses and to address the potential unintended consequences of disruption. The truth is that regulation should be able to maintain a balance between doing these while also fostering innovation.
With regard to AI, there are a lot of voices calling for such a regulation that would prevent governments and any other businesses from using the technology to their advantage. For instance, Bill Gates, who believes AI will “allow us to produce a lot more goods and services with less labour,” expects labour force dislocations and has suggested a robot tax. Elon Musk, who is well-known for his warnings about AI and its threat to the existence of human civilization, calls for proactive regulation “before it is too late.”
But why would we need to regulate AI? Why not let the technology follow its course and turn into this unprecedented, amazing tool?
1. AI CAN BE BOTH GOOD AND EVIL
Artificial intelligence has indeed proven it can bring unexpected benefits to numerous sectors. From less boring and time-consuming jobs, decreased costs, improved quality and performance, better decision-making processes, to more accurate and faster medical diagnostics as well as early detection of cancer and other chronic diseases, AI turns out to be a great ally in improving our lives.
But it is not all rainbows and sunshine. AI can also be biased, manipulative and inconsistent. There were numerous cases in which AI was used for targeted political adverts – remember Facebook and Cambridge Analytica who served up manipulative fake news stories to people based on their psychological profiles.
2. MACHINES MAKE MISTAKES TOO
And this is not actually the real problem. The problem is that most of the times, we tend to believe that an algorithm is always right because it’s all mathematics and logic. Well, this is not even remotely true. In her book “Hello World”, Hannah Fry presents a series of interesting events in which algorithms were misleading, but humans decided to trust them blindly. For instance, on March 22nd 2009, a man almost drove off a cliff because his GPS told him it had found a shortcut to his house. Although the road was narrow and full of dirt, the man stated he had no reason not to trust his TomTom sat-nav. In other shocking examples, she presents how some algorithms used in the judicial system have allowed judges to wrongfully convict several citizens.
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