There are some who say that regulating artificial intelligence is impossible. It’s too new and we don‘t even know what we’re regulating, says one school of sceptics. We can never keep track of who’s developing what platforms, says another. Anyone who wants to get their hands on AI – bad actors, especially – can do what they want, says yet another camp.
And so on.
It’s interesting that all the fundamental conditions they describe – new, undetectable, nefarious motives, and more – are correct. At least they are for now. But the conclusion that AI can’t be regulated is not correct. It is not logically sound, it is not thoughtful, and it is not true.
“No, no, no. You’re not thinking. You’re just being logical,” exclaimed Niels Bohr, 1922 Nobel Laureate in Physics, in a heated public debate. That reportedly shut things down in a hurry.
And that would also serve this discussion well. Sure, it’s logical to think that any bad actor with a motive, a plan, and unlimited resources could use AI in some evil ways on incalculably grand scales. But this doesn’t call for logic; it calls for thought. And leadership. And a sense of urgency.
The EU’s AI Act
This past Wednesday, the European Union showed us how this starts. The European Parliament passed the AI Act, which will place restrictions on some of AI’s most ominous threats, such as facial recognition software, and increased transparency of sources of data.
Comments emanating from Madrid, where this vote took place, indicate that this is just one early step in a long, ongoing process, and we are nowhere near a systemized regulatory framework.
But it’s a start, and that’s what leaders do.
Who are the leaders?
A little history and etymology is in order, if you please. The word “leader” first showed up in the English lexicon somewhere around 1300, according to the Oxford English Dictionary’s historical overview of English vocabulary. The definition, from the earliest entries was “the first person on a journey” – a rather flat definition – but one that was inspired by the images as seen on tapestries from that time depicting the Crusades. Picture that big guy on that big horse, leading the crusading armies.
That conceptualization of a leader remained unchanged until the last decades of the 18th century, which saw the three greatest revolutions ever: the American, the French, and the Industrial, all of which took place or began (in the case of the Industril) within a few years of each other.
Now the word “leader” – and along with it, leadership, leadership issues, leadership styles, and leadership approaches – began to add dimension and complexity to what leadership and leaders are.
Which brings us back to the EU’s AI Act. Although the issue of AI is perplexingly complex, as is the 21st century world we live in – there is something startlingly simple about the EU’s move. When, somewhere not too far down the road, we look back on it and analyze all the leadership implications, we will still see the Europeans, in regards to AI, as “the first person[s] on a journey.”
Taking it from here
There is no question: the EU has leverage. With roughly 16% of the world’s economy (depending on the source: World Bank, IMF, WEF, OECD), the EU is, at the very least, the 800-pound gorilla in this room. Moving forward and garnering support and alliances with the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia, for sure, and then some other large economies, as well as many smaller ones, there is reason to believe that – on a meta-ethical level – the world could be getting somewhere on solid ground. Even better would be a global summit like the Paris Accord of 2015, to which 197 nations pledged support and participation in combatting climate change. What made that successful were two factors: unanimity and sanctions.
It will be no different with AI, an issue equally life changing.
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