Europe looks to tackle the impossible task of ethics in AI

The European Commission (hereafter known as the Gaggle of Red-tapers) has announced plans to tackle one of the most complicated problems in technology; guidelines on AI ethics.

When it comes to AI this is perhaps one of the most important areas of development, and it’s about time someone decided to do something about it, but don’t expect this to be a smooth ride. Before the industry can even begin to utilise advanced ideas such as self-learning, self-governance and self-optimization in AI, you have to create broad and flexible set of rules which also build accountability.

“Step by step, we are setting up the right environment for Europe to make the most of what artificial intelligence can offer,” said Andrus Ansip, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market. “Data, supercomputers and bold investment are essential for developing artificial intelligence, along with a broad public discussion combined with the respect of ethical principles for its take-up. As always with the use of technologies, trust is a must.”

Unfortunately for the Gaggle by demonstrating its traditional razor sharp agility and impeccable speed in reacting to trends, the AI world has already advanced considerable over the last 12 months. The group will have to build rules and guidelines for work which has already been done. It might have to sacrifice some ideals as this would involve unravelling evolution which has already been made, or force technologists to climb back down a couple of rungs on the ladder of progress to make corrections. Neither situation is what you would consider great.

This is of course incredibly important work which should not be taken on lightly. While artificial intelligence has the power to contribute greatly to society, it will also have a negative impact. Jobs will be lost, careers ruined, companies made redundant and laws significantly altered. There will be a very profound impact on society, which is why we are so surprised it took so long for this project to kick off.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the Gaggle will face here is that of agreement. Getting 27 member states to agree on some of the simplest of ideas is a complicated job, but when you ask them to agree on such a profound and (potentially) controversial topic the challenges are only compounded. The timelines are short, the Gaggle want the project completed by the end of the year, so we are a bit nervous.

The timelines might well be internally appointed but don’t think there won’t be external pressure. The calls for more intelligence solutions are getting louder from pretty much all verticals and the Gaggle estimates the global market for artificial intelligence in 2022 is estimated at some $20–24 billon. Irrelevant as to whether stringent rules and guidelines are required, bureaucrats cannot be seen to be holding back the tides of progress. Industry is calling for the solutions and the European Commission cannot afford to stand in the way.