Artificial intelligence – to what end?

Artificial intelligence – to what end?

Civil Society Days 2018 will take place next week, coinciding with the EESC’s 60th anniversary. This time CSOs have taken up a real challenge which goes far beyond the usual “the Europe we want”, the 5th or 6th scenario. We are going further, calling for: “Citizenship, Democracy and Culture in a digital Europe”, because the technological revolution amounts to far more than the digitalization and the robotization of the world of work.

From time to time scary figures on potential job losses are put forward and indeed it seems that there is no sector of the labour market that will not be touched by the changes, even professions thought to be safe, like lawyers, architects and other liberal professions. Machines will not only repeat and calculate on the basis of data introduced, they have already started to think in our place. In most cases we are not even aware of it, as the discussion has focussed mainly on the consequences for the labour market. We already find it normal to board a plane which will fly using computer programmes that are better synchronised than a pilot and co-pilot could ever be. We travel on the automatic Metro in Paris without worrying that there is no-one in the driving seat. In a train station in Berlin we can take an escalator and participate in a programme of visual recognition. Orwell’s visions now seem tame compared to what is technically possible today. The Chinese government wants to use technology to identify potential political opponents, combining visual recognition with behavioural analysis. Our financial systems are run on the basis of algorithms more than by traders. More than once a crash has been prevented at the last minute. The risk of war using new technology is very real, both on the ground and in the virtual world through massive virus attacks. When will it get out of control? 

The relationship between humans and machines is as old as the relationship between capital and labour. The automization of production processes is not new, but artificial intelligence (AI) represents a new category and a new challenge. Systems operated using AI raise political, ethical and societal questions: how can they remain under human control and how will our fundamental European values of freedom, social justice, peace and solidarity be impacted? What will it do to our culture of living together and what will it mean for democracy? Transparency and participation are the preconditions for ensuring that humans still play the decisive role. Deep learning was based on data selection and training programmes, machine learning means learning new systems. But it is not just a question of control, in the end it also raises ethical questions, in the medical sector and more broadly.

Looking ahead to the European 2019 elections, the Pavlovian reflex of sorting out our good “old” arguments and manifestos may not be enough. The fear factor is poisoning our societies, not only the fear of others coming from abroad, but also the fear of losing and the feeling of losing control. Progressives have been determined in their development of a social justice and anti-discrimination agenda. Now as we think about progressive societies and the future of Europe, we must also look to the wider question of how we keep our societies and democracies together, how we ensure digital democracy and solidarity. Artificial intelligence should be a public and common good. In the end artificial intelligence is just the opposite of human stupidity!

Civil Society Days 2018 Teaser

Uploaded by SOLIDARaisbl on 2018-05-18.

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