We live in an age of rapid growth in computer technologies. Our daily lives are dependent on various kinds of technologies. For the most part technology has brought many benefits for humanity. It has made our work more productive, brought out our creativity and imaginations to life, improved our lives in many ways. Technology can be found in any field and industry. Be it education, medicine, agriculture, space travel, etc. Just like many things humans invent, computer technologies have also not so beneficial side effects. Computer tech has become a norm for years not if not decades. Today one of the most interesting and attractive topics in the next step of innovations is automation, machine learning, and AI. Bots are everywhere but not all bots are very useful.
In a social and political levels the topic of AI and use of these sophisticated technologies often discussed within the context of human rights. In a governmental level, there is no doubt any sophisticated technology would always have a possibility of abuse, a kind of abuse that would infringe upon the rights of its citizenry and beyond. This can be seen with the practices of collecting data with permission and digital surveillance. Countries with more authoritarian tendencies can utilize such technologies to strengthen their control and influence over people. For such use cases it would be a good idea to have a legal framework and boundaries of utilization of the technology.
Today White House released a Blueprint for AI Bill of Rights. However, it is not about how governments use the AI technologies, but rather its focus is on use and development of AI tech in the private sector. This blueprint consists of five principles that should serve as a guide in building and implementing automation and AI. While it is not a law and doesn't have any enforcement mechanisms, it seems to be a collection of ideas and recommendations to those who are heavily involved in building AI and automation tech that play bigger role in the lives of people.
What is the Blueprint for AI Bill of Rights?
The Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights is a set of five principles and associated practices to help guide the design, use, and deployment of automated systems to protect the rights of the American public in the age of artificial intelligence. Developed through extensive consultation with the American public, these principles are a blueprint for building and deploying automated systems that are aligned with democratic values and protect civil rights, civil liberties, and privacy.
Following are the five principles of this blueprint:
- Safe and Effective Systems
- Algorithmic Discrimination Protections
- Data Privacy
- Notice and Explanation
- Human Alternatives, Consideration, and Fallback
It seems like the primary focus of this framework is address the issues of algorithmic bias and discriminations. These principles sound interesting. This is a good cause and solutions definitely be worked on. But these measures are not comprehensive and fall short of addressing other potential and more obvious harms that powerful AI systems may have, which is giving too much power to few entities like big tech giants.
Technology gives an edge for companies to compete in the free market with their innovation, products and services. Nothing wrong with keeping such tech secret and having proprietary rights over them. However, if the same approach is applied to the AI technologies, there can be harm to free market itself. With AI technologies, companies no longer only have some short term edge in a competition. The scale of automation and amount of data hoarded and processed gives more than an edge. This gives too much power to few companies who may or may not use this advantage against the benefits of people including their customers.
Microsoft has built a network of workplace computing and they too are very ambitious in developing AI technology. Such ambitions with the access to big network of work place and business activities data, they have a potential of gaining a power that no compony ever had. Apple and Google dominate mobile computing and able to hoard all kinds of data. They also are software companies that are obsessed with AI. Facebook not only has access to enormous amount of social data and AI tech, but they don't even hide how they utilize them and it's been clear by now many of their actions aren't done for the love of people and their privacy.
If White House is serious about harms that may be caused by AI tech, they should add Open Source and Transparency to the list of their blueprint principles. By having the code open source would automatically add a layer of transparency, which would make it possible for developers from around the world review and identifies problems. It would also prevent any one or few entities accumulating too much power, and instead make these companies focus on delivering better products that respect privacy, increase productivity, and add more value to the lives of people. By having all AI ambitious code open source, no company would have to worry about competition in who can accumulate more power. It can actually ensure free competition in a truly free market. Implementing a transparency principle would force companies to disclose AI ambitions and developments, and keep them honest and accountable.
It is unlikely White House would be interested in open source and transparency, as close relationship with the big tech and cooperating for mutually beneficial outcomes is normally how these things play out. Big tech pays big money and shares some tech, big politics work out more favorable "solutions". At the same time it may be a better approach for the government just to stay away from private sector, and focus on things they can accomplish. First thing that came to my mind when I saw this announcement, was the Robocalls. What don't they fix the Robocalls problem first? - was my reaction. After googling robocalls I saw something interesting. There were several articles from yesterdays about a news that FCC made ultimatum to voice service providers to fix the robocalls problem. Is this a coincidence or is White House is actually serious about their fight about robots?
Of course there are many benefits of automation, machine learning and AI. I love automation. Be it a small script that takes care of repetitive tasks in seconds, or bigger solutions that make production of goods and services more efficient. Automation and AI can actually help government in improving how they conduct their business. For example, IRS can benefit with improving their system and getting rid of a need for people to file their taxes for something IRS already has information about. So much time, money and effort is wasted with this tax system. I am sure automation and AI can make this system work thousand times better.
Artificial Intelligence is not going anywhere. This technology is in its early stages and will probably become one of the highest achievements in this century. Combining AI with robotics, there is so much potential to solve so many problems. We could potentially come up with solutions for wildfires, hurricanes, garbage in the oceans, etc. The question is how are we really going to use the technology.