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EU Ambassador Lambrinidis talk at AI International Accord: “Europe balance between Innovation and Fundamental Rights”

We introduce part of the acceptance speech by the European Union Ambassador to the US Lambrinidis for the World Leader in AI World Society Award on April 28:

In Europe, we believe that there is a clear interrelation between Innovation and Fundamental Rights – that one can promote the other.

We value, champion, and thrive from innovation. Last year, as the deadly COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly across the globe, AI demonstrated its potential to aid humanity by helping to predict the geographical spread of the disease, diagnose the infection through computed tomography scans, and develop the first vaccines and drugs against the virus.

European companies and innovators have been at the forefront in every aspect of that effort. The winner of last year’s Future Unicorn Award, presented annually by the European Union to start-ups with the greatest potential, was awarded to a Danish company, Corti, which uses AI and voice recognition to help doctors predict heart attacks.

Clearly, the possibilities and opportunities for AI are immense – from turning on wind turbines to produce the clean energy for our green transition, to detecting cyber-attacks faster than any human being, or cancer in mammograms earlier and more reliably than trained doctors. We hope that AI will even help us to detect the next infectious outbreak, before it becomes a deadly pandemic.

We want AI to do all of these great things.

At the same time, just as in every technological evolution that has come before it, we must prepare for the unexpected. With the increasing adoption of AI, our rights to privacy, dignity, freedom, equality, and justice are all at stake. These are fundamental to our lives as Europeans, and enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

If it is our aspiration to create machines that are able to do more and more of our thinking, selections and decision-making, we must also take care to ensure they do not make the same mistakes that we humans have been prone to make.  Let me offer two examples to illustrate the point:

  1. First – the use of facial, voice, and movement recognition systems in public places can help make our lives more secure. However, it can also allow governments to engage in mass surveillance, intimidation, and repression, as China has shown, in the most cynical and calculated way, in Xingiang.
  2. Second – the use of AI in recruitment decisions can be helpful. However, if a computer compares resumes of senior managers and concludes that being male is a good predictor of success, the data simply reflects bias – a bias within our society, which historically has favored men for leadership positions. We do not want AI to reinforce existing biases by copying and infinitely replicating them.

These are just two examples that illustrate why we must not become bystanders to the development and deployment of AI. If we, the major world democracies, do not move to establish a regulatory framework, if we do not move fast, smart and strategically to build alliances and set standards for human-centric, trustworthy, and human rights-respecting AI with countries big and small from all over the world, I dread to think who might.

Link: https://un100.net/recognitions/nova-prize-and-lecture/acceptance-speech-of-ambassador-stavros-lambrinidis/