AI will be a determining factor for the future of humanity, committee hearing is told

Deborah Bergamini (Italy, EPP/CD), PACE rapporteur on the need for democratic governance of artificial intelligence, has stressed the need for setting up national and international regulatory frameworks to ensure democratic governance of AI and prevent its misuse.

Addressing a meeting of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy in Strasbourg on 2 October 2019, Ms Bergamini said that there is a growing consensus that artificial intelligence will substantially transform people’s lives and have an impact on human societies for years to come. She also highlighted the fact that while artificial intelligence may generate great opportunities in advancing economic and social progress, it can also present complex challenges.

“AI is already influencing the functioning of democracy,” said Ms Bergamini. “The broad use by States of AI-based technologies may lead to the erosion of political freedoms and the emergence of digital authoritarianism - a new social order competing with democracy.”

She concluded: “The Parliamentary Assembly should adopt a holistic approach, consider challenges and opportunities related to artificial intelligence (in diversity), and present a consolidated position with comprehensive proposals.”

Dr Birgit Schippers from St Mary’s University, Belfast, pointed out that one of the hidden capabilities of AI-based technologies is that they can be highly unjust, unfair and discriminatory, regarding individuals from vulnerable communities. She also said that the two most important issues that need further examination are the specific capabilities and politics of AI, and autonomous and automated decision-making.

Paul Nemitz, Principal Advisor to the European Commission, agreed that the most important step towards taming AI is to move from discourse to regulation. On a more personal note, he said: “I am very conscious that certain member States have articulated clauses that allow certain decisions to be taken by automated systems. These clauses seem to be insufficient, since those programmes are way too powerful. That is why we need an empowerment of the legal basis.”

Yannick Meneceur from the Directorate of Information Society and Action against Crime of the Council of Europe, referred to the concept of democracy and said that we are moving to a new concept of participatory democracy, the internet democracy, where the internet mobilises and co-ordinates society. He concluded by saying that “the centre of democracy seems to be moving towards society, and technology seems to be playing a transformational role”.

The committee is planning to organise further hearings on this highly topical issue in order to better understand the effects of AI on democracy and come up with meaningful proposals.