It is virtually undisputed that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can have significant benefits for society: applications can be used to make farming more sustainable and production processes more environmentally friendly, improve the safety of transport, work and the financial system, provide better medical treatment, and can be used in countless other ways. Indeed, it could even potentially help eradicate diseases and poverty. But the benefits associated with AI can only be achieved if the challenges surrounding it are also addressed.
In October 2016, Catelijne Muller was appointed as rapporteur for a European Economic and Social Committee opinion on AI. In its recent report on AI and Society, the EESC has identified 11 areas where AI raises societal concerns, ranging from ethics, safety, transparency, privacy and standards to labour, education, access, laws and regulations, governance, democracy, but also warfare and super intelligence. This requires a human-in-command approach, where we decide if, when and how AI is used in our society.
Central to the debate around AI in Europe (where unemployment rates are still high following the crisis), is the question of AI’s impact on work. In 2015, Robert Went co-published the WRR Investigation Mastering the Robot. In this publication, technology experts, economists, and other researchers consider what robotisation and digitisation mean for the future of work. What kind of labour strategies do we need to retain or create jobs and ensure that workers keep autonomy and pleasure in their work?
Ethics is about living the good life, about what that means and how to achieve it. It’s about defining what is right and wrong. There are many ethical issues related to AI, says Aimee van Wynsberghe. Can AI be a moral agent like a human? Should they have rights? Is an AI creature responsible for its actions? If it isn’t, who is – the designer, the manufacturer, the owner? These are all open questions. We need to ask them to help us steer in the right direction.
Wouter van Noort is a journalist. He writes about technology and economics for the NRC Handelsblad and wrote the book Is daar Iemand? (Is Anybody There?) about how the smartphone rules our lives, which was published last April. AI might seem like the realm of science fiction, but you might be surprised to find out that you’re already using it. And whether you’re aware of it or not, AI has a huge effect on your life already.