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To AI or not to AI? Towards a treaty on Artificial Intelligence




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As AI revolutionizes the world, EU lawmakers aim to regulate it for values and safety preservation. The AI Act, the first law of its kind, is designed to serve EU citizens’ best interests. However, since technologies are available for anyone, and evolving faster than regulations can keep up, a global strategy is needed. The world’s strategy of ‘connecting the unconnected’, faces significant and complex challenges that require addressing on a wider scale. In this context, the EU should consider organizing an international summit to establish core principles for safer AI practices towards a Treaty on Artificial Intelligence, writes Francesco Cappelletti, Senior Policy & Research Officer, European Liberal Forum (ELF); teaching Cybersecurity at Brussels School of Governance; Researcher, CDSL, Vrije Universiteit Brussels.

AI and its concerning trends

Despite being far from a Matrix-like scenario, unregulated and misused AI can create challenges for our societies. It can influence our understanding of information and, as a result, jeopardize a crucial foundation at the heart of our societies: democracy.

There are various concerns regarding AI: it could replace humans in jobs, if misused make biased decisions and increase inequality. But the biggest concern might be that AI eroding our free will by using collected data to and manipulate our behaviour, possibly without us even realising it.

The list of threats goes as far as conspiracists can get, reinforced by countless sci-fi movies over the decades. However, the key principle here is to maintain a positive attitude towards technology rather than banning it, shutting down applications, or restricting access to (any) innovations. Technology is inherently neutral, with its societal impact determined by how we us it. This concept also means that the individuals are free to choose which technology to use. Thus, the challenge lies in striking a balance between the technology itself and how we integrate it into our society.

While tech-neutrality is an essential milestone in today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, the picture around AI is slightly boarder (and complex). Many non-democratic countries like China with its social credit system, or North Korea with its strict control over information, may be tempted (if they aren’t already) to use AI to control information, citizens, and manipulate democracy into a quasi-totalitarian regime. It remains challenging to control technology ethically when it is shared with countries holding differing values. Also, the EU's AI definition and taxonomy must be considered in the context of its regulatory power (aka ‘Brussels Effect’), which is less likely to have an impact on the borderless realm of cyberspace.

The AI and the EU regulatory approach


Despite concerns over its applications, AI continues to evolve, it will bring about significant changes across different sectors and industries, such as information technology, finance, healthcare, marketing, and robotics, transforming the society as we know today. It will make Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’ a reality, filling the gaps in the complete realisation of the network society. Under these circumstances, timely regulation is intended to position the EU as a leader in governing AI technology.

A trialogue involving the European Commission, Council, and Parliament, centred around the ‘AI Act’, is paving the way for the first-ever AI regulation by a key global player, the European Union. The updated EU’s rules make the AI definitions clearer, harmonise rules, and focus on transparency and ethics. The revised regulation also makes it easier to follow the rules, support testing new AI ideas, and help prepare for AI's impact on the future.

While the new AI rules marks an important step forward in addressing AI-related issues, they might not be sufficient to tackle the international and open-access dimensions in which technology is evolving – and thus, its future challenges.

Navigating AI and the (cyber) superpower

Technology and the future are vast subjects that can be difficult to grasp. Our lives are being transformed by technology: it influences how we think, behave and even shapes our culture. We live in a state of ‘constant innovation’, where our priorities may shift quickly, and beliefs in core values might have to be reassessed in a few years. What used to take decades and cross multiple generations may now happen in a matter of months or years with the release of the latest technology. New generations immersed in a ‘metaverse’ society might prioritise access to improved services over concerns about data control or privacy as we do now.

These potentially concerning trends shouldn't render regulations obsolete. Instead, they emphasise the need for smarter regulations, policies, and political approaches. This involves creating flexible legislative frameworks that can keep up with future technological advancements.

A new, unconventional superpower that we could call ‘cyberspace’ and includes supercomputing, AI, metaverse, and all future technologies, is emerging. Handling this superpower demands a strategic balance of power. In light of this situation, the EU must work closely with AI trailblazers – and like-minded partners- like the US and the UK, as no single entity or organisation, nor nation alone can tackle these challenges independently.

The world is interconnected and has significant and complex challenges that must be addressed on a broader scale. Thus, a global consensus on prioritizing values in AI applications should be established to ensure shared understanding of the advantages of cooperating in deploying AI safely. The ‘AI Act’ appears to be a promising starting point for establishing the foundation in this domain. However, a global approach to tackle this challenge is needed. Europe should go a step forward, creating a platform for a global summit to agree on core principles for safer AI practices, and potentially even establishing the foundations for a Treaty on Artificial Intelligence.

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