It is powerful, challenging, (r)evolutionary, and transforming. It is now and tomorrow. It is called artificial intelligence (AI) and, increasingly, the benefits and challenges of it are making headlines.

HumAInism strives to smooth and make relevant the collision between AI and humanity by addressing questions such as how do we embrace change while preserving humane values. What are we going to gain by this transforming technology, and on what are we willing to compromise? Should we accept AI as yet another technological development or push it to its limits?

The struggle today is all too real. While utopian and dystopian discourses tend to dominate much of the debate, the answer is probably somewhere in between. Perhaps it depends on the context and person, but one thing is certain, we cannot afford to be silent observers.

We chose to express our ideas and creativity through the humAInism project, a project with visionary and humane aims for AI governance. While initiatives on AI governance may be numerous, humAInism comes with a twist. It uses AI to help us draft a ‘social contract’ or, put differently, a guide to the AI era. By bringing AI to the negotiating table, we can better understand what it can do for humanity. While we agree that AI should not draft future rules and laws instead of us, it can help us manage this complex process for two major reasons.

Firstly, the interplay and complexity of the digital policy field, with over 1000 mechanisms poses a major challenge even for big institutions and experienced negotiators. To illustrate, a proposal for the free flow of data adopted during e-commerce negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) would have had limited impact were it not supported by technical standards adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). The same logic applies to cybersecurity arrangements and measures on personal data protection.

Similar difficulties exist in dealing with the Internet of Things (IoT), online content, and e-commerce, to name but a few. AI can, at least, help us understand this policy complexity and, at best, suggest ways to manage it. A ‘chair for AI’ at the negotiating table can be particularly useful for small states and other actors which lack human and institutional capacities to follow complex digital negotiations.

Secondly, a look back at history, while negotiating the digital social contract, could help us think about the future. Today, many critical issues are less about technology and more about ethics, human dignity, and free will. These issues are not new. They have been discussed since time immemorial, from the Axial period of Confucius, Lao Tzu, Catilla, and Greek philosophers, to modern-day literature and philosophy. The humAInism project will use AI to dig through this rich pool of knowledge and experience. By including AI in this key debate on the encounter of technology and humanity, humAInism should also reinvigorate discussions on ethics, politics, and law among social scientists, policy makers, and the general public.

HumAInism will be officially launched in the first quarter of 2020. In the build-up to the launch, we will hold consultations and brainstorming activities online and in situ. More blog reflections will follow from technologists, linguists, philosophers, lawyers, and artists.

If you would like to join humAInism debates, please send us an email to ai@diplomacy.edu

 

Prof. dr Jovan Kurbalija
Director of DiploFoundation and Head of Geneva Internet Platform

A former diplomat with a professional and academic background in international law, diplomacy, and information technology.