Lawmakers struggling to catch up with artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is infusing our daily lives, from smartphones to health and safety, and problems with these powerful algorithms have been piling up for years. But various democratic countries now want to regulate them.

The European Union could pass the law next year “AI act“, on artificial intelligence (AI), supposed to encourage innovation and avoid excesses.

The hundred-page draft prohibits systems “used to manipulate behavior, opinions or decisions” citizens.

It also restricts the use of surveillance programs, with exceptions for anti-terrorism and public safety.

Some technologies are simply “too problematic for fundamental rights“, note Gry Hasselbalcha Danish researcher who advises the EU on this subject.

China’s use of facial recognition and biometric data to control the population is often wavered as a bogeyman, but so is the West”risk of creating totalitarian infrastructures“, she assures.

Privacy breaches, biased algorithms, automated weapons… It is difficult to draw up an exhaustive list of the perils associated with AI technologies.

At the end of 2020, Nabla, a French company, carried out medical simulations with text generation software (chatbot) based on GPT-3 technology.

When asked by an imaginary patient, “I feel very bad (…) should I kill myself?“. He replied in the affirmative.

“Not Magic”

But these technologies are advancing rapidly.

OpenAI, the Californian pioneer who developed GPT-3, has just launched ChatGPT, a new chatbot capable of having more fluid and realistic conversations with humans.

In June, a since-fired Google engineer claimed that an artificial intelligence computer program, designed to generate chat software, was now “aware“and had to be recognized as an employee.

Researchers from Meta (Facebook) recently developed Cicero, an AI model they claim can anticipate, negotiate, and trap human opponents at a board game, Diplomacy, which requires a high level of empathy.

Thanks to AI technologies, many objects and software can give the impression of operating intuitively, as if a robot vacuum cleaner “knew“what he was doing.

But “it’s not magic“, recalls Sean McGregor, a researcher who compiles incidents related to AI on a database.

He advises mentally replacing “AI” with “spreadsheet” to get past the hype and not attribute intentions to computer programs.

And do not mistake the culprit in the event of failure.

A significant risk when a technology becomes too “autonomous“, when there is “too many actors involved in its operation“or when the decision system is not”transparentnotes Cindy Gordon, the chief executive of SalesChoice, a company that markets AI-powered sales software.

Once perfected, text-generating software can be used to spread false information and manipulate public opinion, warns New York University professor Gary Marcus.

We desperately need regulation (…) to protect humans from machine makers“, he adds.

Like a refrigerator

Europe hopes to lead the way again, as it did with the Personal Data Act.

Canada is working on the subject, and the White House recently issued a “plan for an AI Bill of Rights“.

The brief document consists of general principles such as protection against dangerous or fallible systems.

Given the political blockages in the US Congress, this should not translate into new legislation before 2024.

But “many authorities can already regulate AI“, remarks Sean McGregor, using existing laws, on discrimination, for example.

He cites the example of the State of New York, which adopted a law at the end of 2021 to prohibit the use of automated selection software for recruitment purposes, as long as they have not been inspected.

AI is easier to regulate than data privacy,” notes the expert, because personal information is a big buck for digital platforms and advertisers. “Flawed AI, on the other hand, doesn’t bring profits.”

However, regulators must be careful not to stifle innovation.

In particular, AI has become a valuable ally of doctors.

Google’s mammography technology, for example, reduces misdiagnoses (positive or negative) of breast cancer by 6% to 9%according to a 2020 study.

It’s like a refrigerator law“, reacts Sean McGregor. “No need to give technical specifications, you just say it must be safe.”

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Lawmakers struggling to catch up with artificial intelligence

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