EU report warns of AI risks to human rights

By on 10/07/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Safety net, or cage? New EU report warns of the risks around governments’ use of AI technologies (Image courtesy: geralt/Pixabay).

EU Member States should refrain from “disproportionate and mass surveillance of individuals,” deploy artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as facial recognition with great care, and ban some AI applications – such as the “AI-enabled mass scale scoring of individuals” underpinning China’s social credit system – according to a new report by a panel of experts convened by the European Commission.

The report, ‘Policy and Investment Recommendations for Trustworthy AI’, was produced by a group of 52 experts, including academics, representatives from industry bodies, civil society and major tech companies such as Google, IBM and SAP. This latest report follows a set of ‘Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI’ published by the group on behalf of the European Commission in April.

The set of 33 recommendations focuses on how to make European AI trustworthy, “human centric” and “respectful of fundamental rights” as the new technology is deployed by EU Member States and businesses, while remaining competitive with the AI superpowers of China and the US.

Only Little Brothers please

“While there may be a strong temptation for governments to ‘secure society’ by building a pervasive surveillance system based on AI systems, this would be extremely dangerous if pushed to extreme levels,” the report says. “Governments should commit not to engage in mass surveillance of individuals and to deploy and procure only trustworthy AI systems, designed to be respectful of the law and fundamental rights, aligned with ethical principles and socio-technically robust.”

The panel also raises concerns about facial recognition technology, arguing that policymakers should “consider the need for new regulation to ensure adequate protection from adverse impacts.”

“In particular, individuals should not be subject to unjustified personal, physical or mental tracking or identification, profiling and nudging through AI powered methods of biometric recognition such as: emotional tracking, empathic media, DNA, iris and behavioural identification, affect recognition, voice and facial recognition and the recognition of micro-expressions. Exceptional use of such technologies, such as for national security purposes, must be evidence based, necessary and proportionate, as well as respectful of fundamental rights.”

Intelligent use of AI

Other recommendations include creating user-centric end-to-end public services with a single point of contact; the roll out of AI training schemes at all levels across the EU; encouraging more women into the field of AI technology; and the establishment of an AI awareness day on Alan Turing’s birthday.

According to the report, the next steps “to pave the road for this new way of working” will be to pilot the ‘Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI’ and test out some of the recommendations in various sectors during the second half of 2019.

Mariya Gabriel, European commissioner for digital economy and society, said: “The new recommendations presented by the experts are an essential input for our continuing joint work with EU Member States to ensure the development of a trustworthy AI – the use of ground-breaking technology that respects privacy, provides transparency and prevents discrimination.

“Shaped in this way, artificial intelligence technologies can become a real competitive advantage for European businesses and society as a whole.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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