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Prioritizing Human Well-being in the Age of AI

Research. Robots, AI and algorithms may increase economic  growth in GDP. But do they increase human well-being? At a dinner debate in Brussels, experts and politicians shared opinions on the issue.

There is a lot of talk about tech, digitization and growth these days.  Everybody strives to be a leader in the world race. But what is the human price when the industry makes money on new tech and algorithms? At the dinner debate: Civil Law Rules on Robotics: Prioritizing Human Well-being in the Age of Artificial Intelligence hosted at the European Parliament in Brussels, keynote speaker Fabrice Murtin (Senior Economist, Household Statistics and Progress Measurement Division of the OECD Statistics Directorate) said that in order to answer this question, we need to monitor and measure the consequences of digital technologies across all the various dimensions of human well-being. GDP alone is not a sufficient measure.

This is exactly what the UN does in their multi-dimensional framework of the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDG). Despite the fact that it is becoming widely recognized that an increase in GDP does not directly correlate to an increase in citizen well-being or happiness, and despite the fact that John C. Havens (Executive Director of The IEEE Global Initiative) states that few would argue that ethical considerations for AI should be prioritized for tech policy,  it seems evident, that ethics and human well-being is not at the center of the tech industry these days. How can we make it so?

John C. Havens thinks an underlying shift in our economic measures is necessary, because market forces and exponential growth trumps ethics. In order for AI development to prioritize human and environmental well-being, we need economists to demonstrate new forms of values for technology creation.

Virginia Dignum (Associate Professor, Delft Institute of Technology) believes that there is money in values. Companies are realizing that well-being and human value is the central motivation for their innovation. He and his team are working on specific methodologies that help companies identify and investigate the role of ethical values in their companies.

Values are also at the core of the work of the Commission according to Salla Saastamoine (Director, Directorate A, Civil and Commercial Justice, Directorate -General (DG) for Justice and Consumers (JUST)), saying: “It is the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, and respect of human rights that is the big framework for us”.

Market Drivers Not Enough
But the current situation shows that market drivers cannot stand alone. Political regulation is needed. At the debate, Salla Saastamoine raised specific political and regulatory concern asking how best to evolve existing product liability rules at the European Union level with regards to robotics and AI. No specific answers came up. But EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that will be enforced on May 25 2018, is one example of political regulation, which Virginia Dignum (Associate Professor, Delft Institute of Technology), believes will create new jobs and thereby increase human well-being. Her argument is that while automation may replace certain jobs, many new roles would be created around the governance, analysis, and handling of data in the context of the GDPR. In that sense, data is not only a personal asset but also a societal one.

For an outsider the dinner debate seemed not to be so much of a debate as a shared ground of good intentions and a search for the good answers and solutions. But it seems that MEP, Mady Delvaux, (The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Luxembourg)  in her opening remark pretty much summed up the debate in advance, when she opened the debate declaring: “I believe that everyone agrees we want technology and research to serve human beings but certainly when it comes to the details things will become more complicated”. This is difficult to disagree with.

Facts about the dinner debate
The dinner debate featured experts from The IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems (“The IEEE Global Initiative”).
It was hosted by Member of European Parliament (MEP) Mady Delvaux (The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Luxembourg), who served as Rapporteur on the Parliament’s Civil Law Rules on Robotics report.
A primary subject of debate for IEEE’s event at the Parliament was to ask how existing Beyond GDP metrics that do measure emotion or other AI-relevant factors could increase the efficacy of these technologies while inspiring ethically driven innovation overall.