Few technologies have sparked as much debate, held more promise or terrified more people than artificial intelligence (AI). Depending on who is talking, AI promises to usher in a new technological era or precipitate the demise of humanity.
Notable individuals such as Mark Zuckerberg, Ray Kurzweil and Sam Altman have been strong proponents of AI development, even going so far as to believe the potential benefits create a moral imperative to pursue AI research. Others, such as Elon Musk, Clive Sinclair and the late Stephen Hawking, believe true AI may represent the greatest existential danger to the human race.
With so much controversy, governments are getting drug into the middle of the debate, trying to navigate what role they should play in regulating AI, with Germany the latest to wade in on the topic. In 2018, the German government formed the Data Ethics Commission to “develop ethical benchmarks and guidelines as well as specific recommendations for action, aiming at protecting the individual, preserving social cohesion, and safeguarding and promoting prosperity in the information age.”
Last week the commission released an opinion on AI development, recommending more regulation and government involvement.
“The Data Ethics Commission holds the view that regulation is necessary, and cannot be replaced by ethical principles. This is particularly true for issues with heightened implications for fundamental rights that require the central decisions to be made by the democratically elected legislator. Regulation is also an essential basis for building a system where citizens, companies and institutions can trust that the transformation of society will be guided by ethical principles.”
AI proponents and tech experts are already speaking about against the commission’s findings, voicing concern that the focus on regulation will stifle innovation.
“Europe wants to be more competitive in the digital economy,” wrote Eline Chivot, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation in Brussels. “But it cannot substitute regulation for innovation. Rather than trying to achieve competitiveness in AI through policies designed to disadvantage foreign providers and promote European digital sovereignty, European policymakers should instead focus on developing an AI strategy that invests in people, data, and digital infrastructure, and creates a more innovation-friendly regulatory environment, so that European firms can better compete with China and the United States.”
One thing is certain: The debate about AI, its future and the best way to safely develop the technology is far from over.