The Towards a Good AI Society Summit, hosted at the at the European Parliament in Brussels on the 6th and 7th of November 2018, brought together more than 150 delegates and several global figures in the areas of government, industry, research and civil society to debate how to respond to the social challenges introduced by digital technologies as big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity, and social and new media. In this context, particular attention was dedicated to how the potential benefits of AI can be realised by all.
In his opening keynote, UK’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair, framed the growing and all-pervading role of AI and automation in general as possible the greatest challenge of our time. Speeches from Huawei’s Western Europe Regional Sales Vice-President, Gaston Khouri and Elsevier’s Ceo Ron Mobed underscored the opportunities for job creation and collaboration between intelligent systems and human workers to increase productivity and competitiveness as well as the need for “trusted” systems as we already have in other advanced industries. Atomium’s President Michelangelo Baracchi Bonvicini observed the present debate is possible because we live in a democratic society able to involve all stakeholders in participated decision making.
In this context, DG-Connect’s Director General Roberto Viola, illustrated the Commission efforts to develop a set of guidelines for the ethical use of AI throught its high-level group of experts and the broader network of its AI Alliance. The Commission’s high-level expert group should be delivering ist first piece of work by the end of the year.
Oxford University Digital Ethics Lab director Luciano Floridi, also member of the Commission’s high level expert group, presented the result of the first year of work ofAI4People, an independent effort which produced a white paper suggesting 20 guidelines for developing policy on the ethical use of AI, to appear in the December 2018 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Minds and Machines.
The Summit first day also saw the presentation of the outcomes of the third year of REIsearch’s project, by the project’s Editor in Chief Guido Romeo. REIsearch is a project supported by the European Commission and Parliament to improve the dialogue between citizens, scientists and decision makers which 2018 edition was aimed at assessing and improving European digital awareness and skills. Data collected by REIsearch on more than 12.500 users shows more than 56% of EU citizens are still lacking the basic skills and competences to navigate effectively the new digital world. The data was collected in October by REIsearch’s 2018 campaign launched across Europe in six languages (English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish). The initiative was supported by the European Commission and Parliament, and benefited from the collaboration of nine leading European media organisations, Der Standard, El País, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Les Èchos, Irish Times, Il Sole24ore, Público, Euroscientist and Elsevier. On average, the areas where Europeans seem more competent are big data, artificial intelligence and IoT while topics as cybersecurity, privacy and the inner workings of social media remain more obscure. Men seem to fare slightly better answering correctly 47% of the times while women respond successfully to 44% of questions.
To ensure that Europeans are not merely the consumers or customers, but also the developers and designers of the technologies transforming human life, the parallel sessions of the second day of Summit covered issues as diverse as the digital economy, the use of algorithms in criminal justice and cyberwarfare, reflecting the broad potential scope and impact of digital technologies.
The Plenary of the 7th summed up the work of the three breakout sessions. The session on Workers and the digital industries, chaired by Europe Cancer League’s Wendy Yared, underscored the importance of incentivizing the development of skills and support for continuing education. The session on Citizens and the digital society, chaired by Fondazione Bassetti’s Angela Simone, stressed the importance of improving citizen engagement on digital automation issues; the growing importance of digital humanities in the tech sphere and the need for more inclusion and diversity in this new space. The session on Consumers and the Digital economy chaired by REIsearch Editor in Chief Guido Romeo, raised many issues on the need for a better regulation of AI based services to counter possible effects of discrimination as well as the need for a clear explicability of automated services.
In the final remarks, Mady Delvaux, Mep, Vice Chair Committee on Legal Affairs, stressed the need for more investment in AI based technology in Europe as well as in people and the risk for Europe research excellence being overtaken by China and the US while Patricia Fernández de Lis, Science Editor at Spain’s El Pais, stressed the need for AI technicians and researchers to break out of their silos and engage in a wider discussion with society stakeholders at large as this dialogue is presently not taking off. The closing remarks delivered by Oxford University’s visiting Research Fellow, Robert Madelin identified 6 crucial points emerging from the Summit:
1. AI is a great opportunity for Europeans but policymakers and stakeholder should be realistic about what its can do for citizens.
2. Intelligent systems will not replace humans but collaborate with them, improving work conditions and safety as well as making European companies more competitive.
3. Ethics play a key role and before and beyond regulation but a common language remains to be found to incorporate principles into technologies.
4. Policy makers, citizens and technologists need to connect at a global level be impactful in this domain.
5. Trust in new intelligent systems is a key asset to develop and more more education is needed to make this happen.
6. The challenges are not only about AI but also about how we regulate data and information.
7. The development of the AI Alliance, AI4People and other initiatives outside of Europe are all part of a global conversation.
8. Action is needed in policy making as the technology sphere is moving fast.