The Rules Governing AI Are Being Shaped by Tech Firms – Here’s How

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Credit: TRICIA HIPPS

IN EARLY APRIL, the European Commission published guidelines intended to keep any artificial intelligence technology used on the EU’s 500 million citizens trustworthy. The bloc’s commissioner for digital economy and society, Bulgaria’s Mariya Gabriel, called them “a solid foundation based on EU values.”

One of the 52 experts who worked on the guidelines argues that foundation is flawed—thanks to the tech industry. Thomas Metzinger, a philosopher from the University of Mainz, in Germany, says too many of the experts who created the guidelines came from or were aligned with industry interests. Metzinger says he and another member of the group were asked to draft a list of AI uses that should be prohibited. That list included autonomous weapons, and government social scoring systems similar to those under development in China. But Metzinger alleges tech’s allies later convinced the broader group that it shouldn’t draw any “red lines” around uses of AI.

Metzinger says that spoiled a chance for the EU to set an influential example that—like the bloc’s GDPR privacy rules—showed technology must operate within clear limits. “Now everything is up for negotiation,” he says.

When a formal draft was released in December, uses that had been suggested as requiring “red lines” were presented as examples of “critical concerns.” That shift appeared to please Microsoft. The company didn’t have its own seat on the EU expert group, but like Facebook, Apple, and others, was represented via trade group DigitalEurope. In a public comment on the draft, Cornelia Kutterer, Microsoft’s senior director for EU government affairs, said the group had “taken the right approach in choosing to cast these as ‘concerns,’ rather than as ‘red lines.’” Microsoft did not provide further comment. Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, director general for DigitalEurope and a member of the expert group, said its work had been balanced, and not tilted toward industry. “We need to get it right, not to stop European innovation and welfare, but also to avoid the risks of misuse of AI.”

The brouhaha over Europe’s guidelines for AI was an early skirmish in a debate that’s likely to recur around the globe, as policymakers consider installing guardrails on artificial intelligence to prevent harm to society. Tech companies are taking a close interest—and in some cases appear to be trying to steer construction of any new guardrails to their own benefit.

Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler warned in the journalNature this month that “industry has mobilized to shape the science, morality and laws of artificial intelligence.”

Benkler cited Metzinger’s experience in that op-ed. He also joined other academics in criticizing a National Science Foundation program for research into “Fairness in Artificial Intelligence” that is co-funded by Amazon. The company will not participate in the peer review process that allocates the grants. But NSF documents say it can ask recipients to share updates on their work, and will retain a right to royalty-free license to any intellectual property developed.

Amazon declined to comment on the program; an NSF spokesperson said that tools, data, and research papers produced under the grants would all be made available to the public. Benkler says the program is an example of how the tech industry is becoming too influential over how society governs and scrutinizes the effects of AI. “Government actors need to rediscover their own sense of purpose as an indispensable counterweight to industry power,” he says.

Read the source article in Wired.