Commentary: AI amplifies civic freedoms and creates need to develop int'l and local enabling norms

Author: Zach Lampell & Lily Liu, OpenGlobalRights, Published on: 6 January 2019

"How can AI amplify civic freedoms," 18 December 2018

The future of democracy is entangled with artificial intelligence (AI). How international, national, and individual actors interact with the development of AI technology and policy will influence how it restricts or amplifies civic freedom. We hear the promise of “AI for Good” but presently AI is more likely being used to undermine civic freedom by restricting the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association.

China, for example, curbs the freedom of expression by using AI to find and block social media posts and websites that support the #MeToo Movement. ...[S]everal countries, including Qatar and Kuwait, use the AI-based “Netsweeper” application to scan and block LGBTQIA content.

In terms of freedom of assembly, predictive policing allows police to disrupt peaceful protests before they begin. When demonstrations do occur, facial recognition enables police to identify protesters so that they can be detained and questioned.

AI-powered data analysis is used by governments to process vast amounts of information on civil society organizations and individuals applying to register civil society organizations...

AI has the potential to protect civic space

While AI can certainly have a positive role in protecting civic space, civil society’s current role in AI development and use is limited. To address these issues, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) is building an initiative to ensure that promoting civic freedom is a key consideration in the development of AI technology and policy. The initiative includes: (1) developing international norms; (2) improving domestic policies and laws; (3) enhancing AI fluency; and (4) utilizing AI for good.

For these advances to be realized, however, CSOs need access to AI technology, which is expensive. Several companies are already assisting them in utilizing AI, like Microsoft, Google, IBM and others, but the reality is that CSOs have limited resources to invest in emerging technologies. We need additional ways to provide low-cost and pro-bono expertise to CSOs on AI issues...

The race is on

This is a critical time. AI is developing rapidly, but its potential to promote civic freedoms is just beginning to emerge. It is crucial for civil society to engage at the global, national, local and organizational levels to ensure that no one, including marginalized communities and individuals, is left out of this new era. AI is a robust tool that needs to be thoughtfully developed and regulated to limit exploitation, and harnessed to empower civil society.

 

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Related companies: Google (part of Alphabet) IBM Microsoft