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Artificial intelligence and emerging technologies: a challenge for civilization?


Virginie Martins de Nobrega is an international lawyer and consultant working on the multiple AI applications in international affairs and relations. 

She intervenes on transversal issues related to the risks, opportunities and impact of artificial intelligence and emerging technologies in their geopolitical, ethical, human rights, social, environmental, and economic dimensions.

She authored a chapter on “A Diverse (AI) World: How to Make Sure That the Digital World Reflects the Richness and Diversity of Our World”, in the edited volume Impact of Women's Empowerment on SDGs in the Digital Era, dealing with the impact of such technologies on the most vulnerable, minorities and women, highlighting the many aspects of the digital divide.

Since 2018, she has actively been promoting an ethical, multicultural, human-rights, and human-centred approach combining social and environmental imperatives with geopolitical and economic stakes, calling for the technological transformation to build bridges instead of widening the gaps.  

1 – The Security Council just held its first session on Artificial Intelligence (AI). the New UN Agenda for Peace Policy Brief highlights the dual nature of those technologies, and the EU is building a strong regulatory framework. Are those technologies really a challenge for civilization? 

Yes, they are due to their penetrability across countries and sectors, and because they influence, if not structure, the scope of public authority, our rights, and fundamental freedoms. Contrary to other technologies, states and individuals cannot just turn off their systems or delete their cookies. There is a constant interaction with AI-systems, such as generative IA and Natural Language Processing (NLP), that are built on those interactions and improve their accuracy and efficiency because of it. You add massive investments that develop and scale up technologies without systematically conducting needs and impact assessments because states need to strategically and geopolitically position themselves. We live in a global context where international relations are reshaped with the BRICS’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) increased influence and the questioning of multilateralism for not fairly and adequately addressing global needs, especially in the South. Everything is rapidly evolving in a reverse order: for some, technological advancements are a driver for economic development; for others they are increasing inequalities and exclusion. This is obvious in the South, but the trend is visible in the North as well.

Then, we are losing a certain control over our history, cultural storytelling, and social fabric. Here lays the biggest AI paradox. It brings us closer to our humanity as much as it distances us from it. It brings us closer to it by forcing us to question our desire to nourish humanity in society. It equally distances us from it by alienating us and creating autonomous systems that shape our interactions and our history. We must not have too anthropomorphic a vision, but not adopting an anthropomorphic point of view would ultimately be self-destructive. Environmental abuses must not make us forget that humans are at the heart of our system, and we must create a system that supports their evolution.


2 – If the stakes are so high, are the legal and regulatory frameworks sufficient?

They are, as is ethics. To systematically oppose the ethical approach to the legalistic approach denies that the law is inspired by and based on great principles of rights stemming from a certain ethical vision. We also tend to forget that law is a sociological product that follows society’s evolutions, but rarely precedes them. Moreover, technology is moving so fast today that the law can hardly keep up even if the regulatory system put in place by the European Union in less than 5 years is to be welcomed.   

Knowing that, ethics at the ideation and conception phases, international law principles as adopted in the UNESCO Recommendations and human rights must be the basis of all reasonings including in business.

We should go further still. Analyse the causes. Consider changing some paradigms instead of accepting them as certainties. For example, we strive to regulate tools that infringe on privacy. Can't we think of privacy-friendly tools from the moment they are designed? The same goes for environmental issues. We live on the myth of the objectivity of data and the need for more data and interoperability. Is this really the case? Today, it remains the biggest unexplored leverage. 

3 – Ethical discussions have been constant, policies and regulations are enacted and companies self-regulate. However, the international and multilateral system is still failing, and divides are growing. Isn't the system itself inadequate?

Ethical, legal, and regulatory frameworks at the international and regional levels are necessary, but not sufficient. Implementation must follow. At national level, it is through the implementation of strong national strategies respecting the principles set out above. At company level, it is with the adoption of policy and governance frameworks. The private sector has been very proactive to set up governance and innovation management tools, guidelines, and processes. They must now comply with the regulatory frameworks, be monitored, and sanctioned when needed.

Besides, we easily tend to stigmatize systems and institutions to not accept our individual and collective responsibilities. Yet, we are the ones who act through systems. Twenty years ago, a large majority thought that greening finance and business was a utopia. Today, everyone is massively invested in eco-responsible approach.  Thinking big and being ambitious for society, the general interest and the common good does not mean being blissfully naïve but meeting the challenges of our time by believing in a fairer society leaving no one behind and providing opportunities to all.

These technologies are like a Pandora's box. The whole system is changing. Those changes must be supported, framed, and thought through ambitious societal ideals combining States’ strategic independence while protecting the general interest, the common good and the values of multilateralism unless we want to fall into the throes of a global, digital, robotic, and cyber cold war. We need solidarity, international cooperation, and dialogue.

article : 07/27/2023

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