CAN WE TRUST AI TO RESPECT OUR DEMOCRACY?

AI is all around us… but mishandled, it can be misleading… What’s the solution?

To Mark Surman, the internet is the most valuable resource for the public. The Executive Director for the Mozilla Foundation wants to ensure that it remains a source of information for everyone in future, too. At the IFA+ Summit, he spoke in the “Society” cluster about the essential role that Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays in society. His keynote was entitled “Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence: Want AI that Doesn’t Undermine Democratic Society? Start with Better Data!” We asked him about the thinking behind his presentation.

Today, AI is all around us – filtering our news, recommending who we date, and making decisions about our finances and our health. We need that AI to put humans and humanity first, especially when its used by large consumer tech platforms. To achieve this, companies must take more responsibility. I have been looking at the need for ‘healthier’ AI. Today, the automated systems built by big consumer tech companies – like content recommendation engines – can misinform, polarise, discriminate against, or addict internet users. They can also disrupt democratic society. To solve this, we need to look at the root problems: massive centralisation in the tech industry, opaque algorithms, and the use of biased data sets.

WE NEED TO LOOK AT THE ROOT PROBLEMS: MASSIVE CENTRALISATION IN THE TECH INDUSTRY, OPAQUE ALGORITHMS, AND THE USE OF BIASED DATA SETS

Tell us a little more about your day-to-day work.

I lead Mozilla, the global community that does everything from making Firefox to advocating for issues like net neutrality and online privacy. My work focuses on fuelling the broader movement of people and organizations who share our values. So, providing fellowships to like-minded thinkers, publishing research on the health of the internet, and running advocacy campaigns that keep Big Tech accountable.

What are the biggest challenges you can see for the future?

Centralisation in the tech industry – and the AI space specifically – is a major challenge.
AI is becoming more deeply embedded in our lives: It has a hand in who we date, via dating app algorithms. It curates what news we read, via content recommendation engines. And automated systems fuelled by big data make decisions about our credit and our health. Meanwhile, just a small handful of companies in the US and China dominate the AI industry. Companies like Facebook and Baidu face little competition and little oversight. Do we really want so few to have so much power?
If you get your news online, if you watch videos on YouTube, if you shop on Amazon, if you’re applying for a loan or a healthcare policy online — then you’re interacting with AI. And chances are it’s not putting your interests first.

How important do you feel it is to have a gathering together of thought leaders such as this at the IFA+ Summit?

It’s important that IFA+ Summit is giving a platform to internet health and healthy AI. We need to convene people from across industry and civil society and academia to think and do things about these issues. Better software, laws, and mores can take shape at gatherings like this.


Photo: Mark Surman, Executive Director, Mozilla Foundation