Is it time to regulate artificial intelligence?

by Business Times writer
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. In simple terms, it is the science of making machines that can think like humans. These machines are capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence such as reasoning, problem-solving, learning, understanding, perception, etc. Artificial Intelligence is evolving at an unprecedented pace, causing debate over whether it is time to regulate this transformative technology.

AI’s impact on society is enormous. In healthcare, AI-powered diagnostics and treatment recommendations are revolutionizing patient care, potentially saving countless lives. Financial institutions use AI for fraud detection and risk management, enhancing security and efficiency. In manufacturing, AI-driven automation increases productivity and reduces costs.

Despite these advancements, the unregulated development of AI poses several critical challenges that cannot be ignored. The increasing reliance on AI in critical infrastructure, like power grids and financial systems, heightens the risk of cyberattacks. Sophisticated AI algorithms could be weaponized, leading to unprecedented security breaches with devastating consequences.

This week, Telecom regulators worldwide gathered in Kampala for the 2024 Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR), organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized UN agency for ICTs. The event served as a forum for discussing emerging issues aimed at enhancing the regulation of the telecommunication and ICT sectors in the digital era. Telecom and ICT regulators, policymakers, and industry leaders, exchanged insights on crucial topics such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data protection, inclusive digital financial services, broadband access, and digital transformation.

The Secretary General of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Doreen Bogdan-Martin highlighted the critical necessity of regulating artificial intelligence to tackle its associated challenges and risks while maximizing its benefits. “We need to move quickly in all the areas that are central to our discussions in this year’s symposium. Let me give you three examples. The first is artificial intelligence. Governments have been racing to establish protections around the development, the deployment and the use of AI since our last gathering. But the reality is that much of the world is still contemplating what to do,” she said.

“A staggering 85% of ITU member states have indicated that they have not started putting in place policies or regulations in the space of AI. And despite this, they have all expressed a keen desire to learn from others. And that is really the essence of the GSR, and I hope that we can use this opportunity this week to really explore how regulators, how policymakers can effectively address the challenges and the risks brought by AI, putting inclusion, putting trust safety and sustainability at the core of our efforts,” she added.

AI has become essential in many fields, such as healthcare, finance, transportation, etc improving efficiency and driving innovation. However, as AI’s positive impact expands, concerns about ethical issues, job loss, privacy, and security also increase. According to the IMF, almost 40% of jobs globally are at risk from AI, with advanced economies facing higher exposure but also greater potential to leverage AI benefits compared to emerging and developing countries. In advanced economies, 60% of jobs are vulnerable due to the dominance of cognitive tasks.

“In advanced economies, about 60 percent of jobs may be impacted by AI. Roughly half the exposed jobs may benefit from AI integration, enhancing productivity. For the other half, AI applications may execute key tasks currently performed by humans, which could lower labor demand, leading to lower wages and reduced hiring. In the most extreme cases, some of these jobs may disappear,” the IMF report reads in part.

In emerging markets, the exposure drops to 40%, and further to 26% in low-income countries. Despite facing less immediate disruption from AI, these economies are less equipped to harness AI’s advantages, potentially widening the digital and income inequality gap. “In emerging markets and low-income countries, by contrast, AI exposure is expected to be 40 percent and 26 percent, respectively. These findings suggest emerging markets and developing economies face fewer immediate disruptions from AI. At the same time, many of these countries don’t have the infrastructure or skilled workforces to harness the benefits of AI, raising the risk that over time the technology could worsen inequality among nations.”

AI, the IMF says, will likely worsen overall inequality, a troubling trend that policymakers must proactively address to prevent the technology from further stoking social tensions. It is crucial for countries to establish comprehensive social safety nets and offer retraining programs for vulnerable workers. Furthermore, notable events involving biased algorithms and the misuse of surveillance technologies have led to demands for regulation.

As AI becomes more integrated globally, new concerns emerge about protecting nations and systems from attacks. Engineers and developers must assess current security measures and create new tools and strategies to address AI vulnerabilities. Regulatory frameworks are essential to establish stringent security standards, ensuring that AI applications are resilient against cyber threats. The cyber security economy has grown four times faster than the world economy.

“How will we harness space?” Bogdan-Martin asked. It is estimated that the global space economy will be worth 1.8 trillion US dollars by 2035. Bodgdan-Martin said that cyberspace is putting regulatory paradigms to test. “We have over 90 countries that have reached orbit. 2023 marked a historic record in terms of the number of satellites launches, and we see more and more countries interested in becoming space faring nations. We see more and more companies competing in this space. And of course, that also puts a bit of pressure on the orbit on orbital slots as well as spectrum resources,” she said.

“This GSR again is an incredibly unique opportunity for us to look into our toolbox. And let’s reimagine the future of space and other emerging technologies using those tools in our toolbox.” The government of Uganda concurs with the International Telecommunication Union that although the technology, particularly AI has presented enormous benefits, it has also posed risks which call for its regulation.

“Artificial intelligence – a component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is increasingly becoming part of our daily lives in our homes and workplaces. With its ability to analyze vast amounts of data, identify patterns and provide accurate predictions, artificial intelligence has the potential to foster movement across several sectors, including healthcare, agriculture, education, transportation, finance, manufacturing. However, I must caution that this rapid change in technology, although beneficial, and inevitable, poses regulatory challenges. Therefore, as we embrace ICT, we must not forget its potential downside,” said Vice President, Jessica Alupo.

She added: “In recent years, we have witnessed technology being used as a tool for political interference and economic sabotage. Unlike traditional warfare, where you can secure the country by guarding your own borders against intrusion, cyber warfare calls for collaborative efforts, especially when emanating from outside your national jurisdiction. Technology must not be used to undermine the peace and security of nations, but rather to support development.”

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