Discussion on digitalization and AI belongs to everyone – and here’s why

by Minna Vasarainen

During the past week, Hannele,  Liubov and I took part to the in the  WORK2019 Conference. The topic of the conference was “Real Work in Virtual World”. We had our own presentations, Hannele on the emerging role of building information modeling (BIM) coordinator, Liubov on changes in academic work and I on extended reality technologies in working life. The conference was well organized – the only thing we missed was a dessert at the reception of Helsinki City(!). So, huge thanks to the organizers!

WORK 2019 Conference Opening. Welcome words by Timo Harakka, Finnish Minister of Employment

Work 2019 conference included altogether six interesting keynotes. They all were intriguing, but I was especially impressed by Valerio de Stefano’s lecture on Thursday. De Stefano’s keynote title was “Labour regulation for the Future: automation, artificial intelligence and human rights at work.” Before the presentation, I was not sure how much this lecture would interest me, but it appeared to be so relevant I wanted to share it in a blog post.

De Stefano presented the idea of granting some legal rights to AI applications or so called “electronic legal personality”. This is familiar to us through corporations, who have their own legal personality: they can own property and they can be sued, but in legal terms, they are separate from what we call natural person. As the possibility is still on the level of idea (apart from some exceptions) , it includes multiple questions to answer and problems to solve. For instance, applications based partly on machine learning are not entirely predictable (as the learning outcome might be different from expected one), and, according to De Stefano’s keynote, there have been cases of discrimination, which have led to entire deletion of the app (or algorithm, to be more precise).

These cases of discrimination conducted by AI rise questions on where the responsibility lies.  Aren’t AI applications merely making already existing, but not always necessarily recognized injustices visible? De Stefano also noted that we do not know enough about AI to regulate it properly, and we need more discussion and research on the topic. This leads us to the most important part of the message I want to convey.

To have an AI discussion, we need everyone. Even if you do not care that much about AI, or digitalization overall. Everyone will feel the consequences of these changes in their lives. AI-based applications are slowly changing the way we connect to each other, find new places, products, and friends – how we exist and live in this world. These changes do not necessarily have to be embraced, but they have to be addressed and discussed.

Despite the way we often speak about AI and digitalization, it is not something that is happening beyond our control and understanding. True, we do not fully understand how to make effective systematic change (or corruption would not be an issue) or sometimes an individual algorithm’s working mechanism, but we do have power to direct the change.

The problem is how to give everyone a possibility to participate, but first step towards that is realizing that you are fully capable of taking part to this discussion even though AI or new technical devices altogether would not be your area of expertise.

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