DigitalResearch & Innovation

Human-centered approach needed for an ai that delivers for citizens

By Dita CHARANZOVA, MEP (ALDE group), Vice Chair Internal Market & Consumer Protection Committee

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a Brussels buzzword in 2018. How will the EU prepare for a digitalized society where we increasingly rely on algorithms?

Can the EU take the lead globally? Will robots mean the end of us? Some are fearful, many others excited, at what the future of AI can bring us.

Developments in AI are for the better and bring more potential for improved delivery and effectiveness of everyday tasks.

AI development means more efficiency across all sectors and better services for citizens. And we are only at the beginning of this digital revolution.

While I do not believe that robots will replace everyone’s jobs or take over the world, we should not continue developing these technologies without any vision either.

We need technology that delivers for consumers and citizens, which brings added value to their lives. But if we want AI that helps humans to live a better life, we need to start defining our goals now.

We need a general framework based on our values that will guide AI to developments in a way our citizens and society want and can trust.

Efficiency gains and better services for citizens are already tangible. 

AI is not just something abstract in the future or in a laboratory; many of us are already interacting with it daily.

From online services like seeing more posts from closer friends on Facebook, to being recommended shows for us through Netflix, and even asking Siri or Alexa a question.

AI is helping to deliver what we want and like.

AI is also improving services for citizens, eliminating or reducing administrative tasks and more effectively resolving problems when they arise.

Chatbots can now answer questions, which prevents citizens from having to wait in a call or go in person. AI can also help tell us which files to fill, or reroute questions to the correct office.

This enables workers to have more time to spend addressing citizens needs quicker by leaving more simple, yet time consuming, tasks to AI.

In the public sector, this means reducing public spending in infamously dense bureaucracy and providing more efficient services.

Not only is AI making our lives easier, but it is also saving lives. Computer algorithms can help detect diseases earlier that are difficult for humans to see, such as some cancers and eye diseases.

Computers can now process thousands of images of diseases until the point that they are able to classify the images without external help. While studies show that human oversight is still critical, AI is found to be extremely complimentary to human abilities in the field of medicine.

Why ethics?

So why should we worry?

Ethical questions are and will continue to come up, and we will have to ask ourselves where we ultimately want to steer these developments.

Imagine, what if there is an error and for whatever reason the computer says that you are not eligible to get a mortgage, or take an airplane?

What if insurance companies can track everything you do, and then decline to pay when you make a claim?

We need to think responsibly to take advantage of the many opportunities AI can bring and make sure that it works for us.

Where and how much do we want to incorporate AI into our lives? We need an idea of where we want to steer developments and ultimately how much power we should therefore give AI systems, as we gradually depend on algorithms in our homes, work and travel.

This does not mean an expect the worst case scenario and overregulating to try to pre-empt the evolution of these technologies.

It is impossible to foresee all of the hurdles we will face eventually in a sector that is evolving at such a fast pace.

And it would be a mistake by hampering innovation in an area that firstly is being tapped into by other powers globally, and secondly, given the huge benefits.

We need some basic guidelines, not laws. Having an ethical code based on our values will help guide us in the early stages of the AI revolution.

The Commission’s decision to make ethics a main pillar of an EU Strategy on AI is very important.

We should not just create and create without an idea of what our general aim is.

While the Commission’s expert group discusses this, we need to also create an open and ongoing conversation with citizens and business alike to enable an outcome that best suits us.

Human in control.

While the question of a broader ethics framework is ongoing and too large a topic to fully delve into here, the basic principle that must be the foundation of any AI development is to ensure that humans remain in control.

This means that consumers have a say about how their data is used and how much they want to delegate decisions over to machines.

Citizens must always have the right to decide.

Then, regardless of what decisions we do or do not delegate to machines, these decisions must always be possible to be overridden and explained clearly.

People need to be able to ask how and why a decision was taken in order to be able to trust it in the first place.

To conclude, AI has enormous potential for citizens across the EU and we are already starting to feel some of these benefits.

It is, however, crucial that the EU at this stage set up a united strategy on AI development by putting the citizen at the heart.

It should be a strategy that not only seeks to create a rich environment for innovation, but that is prepared for future developments with an ethical framework to guide us and ensure that ultimately decisions are reversible and the human is in control.