What Communities and Individuals Can Do
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already being considered a technology of great influence – and it is advancing and developing rapidly. AI is a very powerful technology and can be used for the benefit of society, the economy and even for saving our environment. In the wrong hands or with a lack of ethical consideration, however, it can pose a threat to democratic concepts and therefore to many people.
The dangers that I’d like to address here are not based on wild scenarios that are often depicted in Sci-Fi movies or novels, where an AI wants to take over the world and exterminate all humans. Rather, very subtle developments have led to problematic outcomes that we are challenged with every day.
Pressing issues regarding AI systems include:
Implemented biases that are harmful This can be dangerous for a hugely influential technology. AI systems that are trained with very biased datasets might give an output that is racist, sexist or offensive in other ways, if not regulated properly. If you encounter any of these issues, you need to report it and stress the issue publicly. The more reports on unethical and offensive AI, the more likely it is that something changes. Read more on this topic in this article by the Guardian.
Deepfakes A deepfake is a type of AI that realistically inserts someone’s face or voice into a video or audio file, leading to misinformation and personal attacks throughout the cyberspace. As deepfake software is very available and cheap or even free to use, anyone can use it. Sometimes deepfakes are used purely for amusement, but in many other cases, they are utilised to spread political misinformation or harm an individual in a publicly humiliating way, such as adding women’s faces into pornographic content. Read more on deepfakes in this Wired article.
The invasion of people’s privacy and the manipulation that it results in Due to ubiquitous data collection within cyberspace that leads to the data analysis and creation of personalised models of every single user, AI systems are programmed to manipulate users into certain behavioural patterns or even decisions. In milder cases, this is used for targeted advertising or the recommender systems in your social media feeds, but in the case of the US presidential election in 2016, Cambridge Analytica used social media data to target and manipulate certain people in a very subtle way.
If we don’t stand up for the enforcement of stricter regulations on data collection and the use of AI, more political manipulations will happen and turn around existing democracies. To learn more about how your personal data online is being used, have a look at this article by Wired.
So what CAN and SHOULD we do?
Raise Awareness on Digital Hygiene Digital or cyber hygiene is a reference to actions that users can take themselves to improve their online security. When you care about your digital hygiene, you can ensure the safety of your digital identity and other details online that could be stolen or corrupted. If we maintain our digital hygiene, we act more attentively online and will notice quickly when something doesn’t seem right. See some tips on digital hygiene here.
Implement knowledge on the cyberspace and digital literacy into education Digital literacy needs to be improved for people of all ages throughout the entire world so that everybody can learn about their rights online and will know how to apply these. Communities must urge for education on the dangers of AI and the use of their data. AI systems and their impact are widely underestimated, so we need to incite action. Regional organisations, associations or even businesses should visit schools and organise events to raise people’s awareness on issues they could be facing online and further beneficial information.
Speak up if you think something isn’t right Hold your local or regional representative accountable and make sure that your concerns are being taken seriously. It is particularly crucial that we, the youth, speak up and push for an implementation of a multi-stakeholder framework for digital regulations and infrastructures. We need to get involved with these decision-making processes – after all, this is about our future.
Lobby for GDPR-like regulations – everywhere Communities everywhere must lobby governments to engage in the implementation of frameworks such as the GDPR in the EU that will protect people in cyberspace. You’ll find an overview of the GDPR and more information here.
If we don’t stay vigilant, harmful AI systems could affect people all over the world. If we lack privacy and AI systems will know everything about us, there could be a complete loss of human agency, because a technology could make all decisions for us. In working towards a multi-stakeholder system and constantly being engaged, we will ensure the successful collaboration of computers and humans and not our exploitation for corporate growth.
Especially now that the pandemic has pushed us more and more into the cyberspace, it is essential that we know our rights and won’t let corporations and governments invade our privacy. Sophisticated AI systems can give us the chance to make things right, but we need to be attentive to how this technology is being used.
We have to stand together for a safe, equal and democratic digital space. Stay vigilant and raise awareness when you are online – to protect yourself and others.