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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Control, democracy and technology

Conferences in the MWC are not always covering only technical topics. A forum titled "Preserving Democracy in the Age of Surveillance" certainly attracts attention!

When taking about democracy and global surveillance, one actually tackles a great deal of different topics! Artificial Intelligence is certainly one of the most important among them. All speakers in the conference agreed that AI is in need of more regulation.

Responsibility and accountability sit at the core of the issue. To make corporations accountable for their intrusion into privacy, regulation is required. But what we experience now with social media algorithms demonstrates that regulation has to come before algorithms development and not after.

Another debate is whether control is to be handed to governments or left to private corporations. We all have answers to such questions as "do we want democracy from Facebook or from our governments?" or "do we want education from Google or from our governments?" But going a bit further, imagine if your government is able to control who your friends are, whom you are talking to, which opinions you express and so on. This is actually what we let social networks know about us!

This demonstrates the need for compliance rules, and one has to recognize that the EU is among the most proactive in this field. The EU has taken privacy seriously! The EU has set up a global framework on privacy rights, on digitization and work is ongoing, especially on AI, in order to keep some control on the impact of technology. This has been especially demonstrated with the EU standard on the digital Covid certificate: the EU has been able to set a great example of digital identity that protects individual rights while empowering the healthcare professionals on the field.

These regulations have helped to evidence the dependency of European economy on non-European supply chain, be it for semiconductors, other components, technologies, industrial supplies, etc. This has been especially striking with the Covid crisis that made all of us conscious on our dependency for face masks, vaccines, etc.

Now, with the ongoing war in Ukraine, the feeling of dependency becomes even stronger.

The EU has often been blamed for over regulation or for its slow regulatory processes. But a question is where we stop: if we enforce our privacy regulations to our suppliers, we will make shortages of energy and micro conductors even more difficult.

Technologies that protect privacy should receive preferential investment in the EU, but how to ensure a technological development may not be misused when it matures?

The US point of view on this is radically different from the European one: Americans' major concern is over-regulation as they consider regulation blocks innovation. From a US point of view, we need to let innovation go on, and regulation may come later from the courts or the government if needed. This approach has led to the social media landscape we experience today.

On the other hand, a European point of view is that having human rights constraints on innovation also makes it better. Reversely, innovation without constraints lead to be lazy and may even lead to irresponsible innovation. Going even further innovation without constraints induce irresponsible innovation.

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