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Algorithms have become so powerful we need a robust, Europe-wide response

Opaque algorithms in effect challenge the checks and balances essential for liberal democracies and market economies to function. As the EU builds a digital single market, it needs to ensure that market is anchored in democratic principles. Yet the software codes that determine which link shows up first, second, third and onwards, remain protected by intellectual property rights as “trade secrets”.

Source: Algorithms have become so powerful we need a robust, Europe-wide response

I thought that there were two interesting takeaways from this article. The first is the explicit concern around AI-based systems that are driven by commercial interests in the form of privately funded startups and massive multinational corporations. This is especially important when we consider that a significant proportion of AI research is aimed at improving algorithms that are used in the service of social media services that are, in fact, advertising platforms. As algorithms increasingly determine what we see in our newsfeeds, it becomes more important for everyone to understand that the primary objective of corporations is to increase shareholder profit and return on investment.

The second point is a more subtle question around whether we need AI systems that are informed by European values. Exactly what these values are can be debated but President Macron of France has described what he sees as a French response to North American and Chinese hegemony in this domain:

“And Europe has not exactly the same collective preferences as US or China. If we want to defend our way to deal with privacy, our collective preference for individual freedom versus technological progress, integrity of human beings and human DNA, if you want to manage your own choice of society, your choice of civilization, you have to be able to be an acting part of this AI revolution.”

Of course, this raises the question of what other values should be embedded in AI-based systems: African values? Human values? Patients values? I think it comes down to asking whose interests are being served by the algorithm? And then to ensure that we have enough diversity among those responsible for the design and implementation of AI in different contexts.

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.