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The challenge of control, security and privacy of the internet

As if there isn’t already enough “trouble” in the internet space, an article in The Guardian addresses both the issue of the few people who, in effect, “rule” the use of the internet- the Facebooks of this world! – and upcoming AI.

“On giant screens in the European parliament building in Brussels last week, the face of Mark Zuckerberg looked down on the world’s data protection and privacy commissioners assembled there for their annual conference. What he said was cautious and rather bland, but the imagery was potent: a young Big Brother issuing a tailored message to those who administer the laws of many lands. Zuckerberg did not take questions – a Facebook executive in the chamber did, after Zuckerberg faded from the screens into the green and sunny background of his distant locale.

An actual dialogue with the controller of Facebook might have been illuminating. For example, does Facebook anticipate, as others speculate, that the internet will split into two, or three – the US internet, the China internet and the EU internet?

Unlike generalist legislators, data protection and privacy commissioners are among the public’s best equipped representatives for a meaningful public discussion with Zuckerberg. He is among a tiny group of decision-makers who are shaping a world in which human and artificial intelligence combine to collect and use the personal information of billions of people. In their modest specialism, the commissioners are like barometers of the weather ahead for our digital age.

For a sense of Facebook’s possible future EU operating environment, Zuckerberg should read the Royal Society’s new publication about the ethical and legal challenges of governing artificial intelligence. One contribution is by a senior European commission official, Paul Nemitz, principal adviser, one of the architects of the EU’s far-reaching General Data Protection Regulation, which took effect in May this year.

Nemitz makes clear the views are his own and not necessarily those of the European commission, but the big tech companies might reasonably see his article, entitled “Constitutional democracy and technology in the age of artificial intelligence”, as a declaration of intent.

 “We need a new culture of technology and business development for the age of AI which we call ‘rule of law, democracy and human rights by design’,” Nemitz writes. These core ideas should be baked into AI, because we are entering “a world in which technologies like AI become all pervasive and are actually incorporating and executing the rules according to which we live in large part”.

To Nemitz, “the absence of such framing for the internet economy has already led to a widespread culture of disregard of the law and put democracy in danger, the FacebookCambridge Analytica scandal being only the latest wake-up call”.

Nemitz identifies four bases of digital power which create and then reinforce its unhealthy concentration in too few hands: lots of money, which means influence; control of “infrastructures of public discourse”; collection of personal data and profiling of people; and domination of investment in AI, most of it a “black box” not open to public scrutiny.

The key question is which of the challenges of AI “can be safely and with good conscience left to ethics” and which need law. Nemitz sees much that needs law.

In an argument both biting and sophisticated, Nemitz sketches a regulatory framework for AI that will seem to some like the GDPR on steroids.

Among several large claims, Nemitz argues that “not regulating these all pervasive and often decisive technologies by law would effectively amount to the end of democracy. Democracy cannot abdicate, and in particular not in times when it is under pressure from populists and dictatorships.”

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