European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS): Interview by Roberto V. Zicari with Giovanni Buttarelli, Head of the EDPS

Big Data and AI: Allies or enemies to data ethics?

Roberto V. Zicari interviewed Giovanni Buttarelli, Head of the EDPS. This interview was a really interesting input regarding (big) data protection across Europe. The EDPS is an independent supervisory authority and EU institution that monitors the processing of personal data by the EU institutions and bodies, advises on policies and legislation that affect privacy and cooperates with similar authorities to ensure consistent data protection. In 2018, the EDPS organised 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels. According to Mr. Buttarelli the aim of that conference was to examine data privacy on a higher level, and as he pointed out: “Data protection cannot be isolated from developments in AI, machine learning, big data, the internet of things, biometrics… anymore.”

Unfortunately, AI have become sophisticated tools in which different stakeholders have full access, including political leaders. In fact, the subject that attracted all attention in the World Economic Forum in Davos last January, was privacy, which was characterised as the the biggest concern when it comes to the development of AI systems. Mr. Buttarelli referred to AI as a “fashionable pretext for collecting data” and pointed out the need to make (big) data part of the solution and not the problem. The first step to that would be a global consensus on what is allowed and what not, a consensus that does not exist today.

Another important issue about AI is the wrong decision-making process. What if a decision of an AI system harms somebody, by mistake? AI devices need to be fed with lots of data to train themselves, but how much is enough, and of what quality? Imagine a self-driving car that found itself in a very bad moment (e.g., just a few moments before an accident) and had to decide if it had to run over a pedestrian or bicyclist… what should the right choice be? Such dilemmas may seem ‘God-like’ decisions and rather not so usual yet, and according to Mr. Buttarelli there is an urgent need to and protect human rights by carefully decide on what should be considered ethical or not.

Full article on the above topic can be found here: Digital Initiative – Harvard Business School

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