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Data Democracy – The European Way

Blog. The global AI race has been on for a while. It is about speedy automation, and China and the US are heading in a fierce competition, where human autonomy is secondary to economic growth. China operates as a ‘data dictatorship’, where the government rules humans through tight data control. And the US is a society based on ‘data monopolies’, where big tech corporations know more about humans that they do themselves and thus are vulnerable against economic and political manipulation. In Europe, we must continue to work for a ‘data democracy’, where humans are at the center. It’ll cost on growth, but humanity will win.

Not even the brilliant British-US science fiction series Black Mirror could imagine what is happening in China: How the Chinese dictatorship is implementing a scary social credit system to totally control the population and remove any self-autonomy. But it works, when it comes to economic growth, and according to the Chinese-American investor and author of AI Superpowers Kai-Fuu Lee China will soon catch up with and surpass the US in the development and application of artificial intelligence.

Despite the fact that the Chinese people are not revolting against the social credit system – may be because it makes the government control more transparent than before – we need to be alert in Europe and fight against any tendency toward a similar system. The same is the case for the way, the US has chosen: A neo-liberal-winner-takes-it-all strategy, where the difference between rich and poor is only getting wider, because huge data monopolies grap it all and little or no regulation – maybe because they are seen as a safeguard against global competition from e.g. China.

The Tempted Europe

In many European countries, the public sectors today control a lot of data, and it is extremely tempting to use it for tighter wellfare control. A good example is the Danish municipality Gladsaxe, who has been working at a surveillance and early warning system for children in vulnerable circumstances using data and AI-predictions, described in a report from AlgorithmWatch (p45).

For years, some European start-ups have also imitated the undemocratic surveillance-campitalism business model of the internet, invented by Google in 2001, where humans pay with data in stead of money. We’ve even seen European start-ups, who have gathered immense amounts of personal data and then sold them on to US companies. e.g. the exercise app Endomondo.

The so-called ‘free’ price of tech services is an illusion, which has been viable for years thanks to brilliant ‘free’ services – and marketing – from US companies behind. But the whole idea with the ‘free’ model is to grap as big a market share as possible and then start charging for the services or sell advertising. First fix is free.

The European Way

With the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, fierce antitrust law enforcement from Margareth Vestager and a data ethics movement, Europe is going another way and focus on what we could call a data democracy.

A data democracy puts humans at the center of everything. Very soon the EU high-level expert group on AI and ethics (with Gry Hasselbalch from as a member) will release their final recommendations, which will be human-centered and advise that all AI-development should benefit individuals first and foremost. Human rights, human autonomy and self-determination are also core values in our own data ethics principles and in all work done by our thinkdotank on AI.

Slow Europe is Good Europe

The fact that Europe wants to do AI responsibly, means it will be slower. Europe will not be able to catch up with China and the US on speedy development and implementation AI, even though many EU governments seem to think so and make strategies accordingly.

Not many European politicians will put words in their mouth saying that we will have to accept slower economic growth and work against outdated metrics like GDP to measure the success of our societies.

The IEEE – the technical professional organization for the advancement of technology – has argued for a move beyond the economic model of GDP for AI policy and creation. It hosted a dinner in April 2017 to discuss this, and it published a report, Prioritizing Human Well-Being in the Age of Artificial Intelligence,  the same year. In 2018, the OECD published a report, Beyond GPD, claiming that the most powerful economic indicator, GDP, were not able to tells us the health of countries and societies. It stated:

“The time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being.”

Being human-centered will make Europe slower. But what is the problem with that? Let China and the US be first-movers on AI, let them experiment and feel the consequences of the massive loss of human jobs, before we do. Let us learn from them in Europe, and do AI in our way, in a human way.