Risks and opportunities of AI discussed in parliament

Ljubljana – The opportunities and risks of artificial intelligence (AI) as well as Slovenia’s pioneering role in the field were discussed on Friday as the National Assembly’s delegation for cooperation with the OECD hosted a debate with experts to shed light on key issues.

AI is a useful tool that is already changing the world, but there are issues pertaining to its efficiency, safety, ethics and to prosperity, which is why the field also poses a challenge for lawmakers, noted the delegation’s leader, LMŠ MP Nik Prebil.

Jerneja Jug Jerše, the head of the European Commission representation to Slovenia, said Slovenia was one of the trailblazers in the field and the EU would like, with the help of Slovenia’s achievements, to become an AI leader in this decade.

Peter Ješovnik, Slovenia’s permanent representative to the OECD, noted Slovenian experts’ involvement in OECD projects in the field and the country’s excellent relations with the organisation’s directorate for science, technology and innovation.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) adopted in 2019 Principles on AI as the first such international set of principles and based on that it is now working on a classification of AI systems.

Like Jerše the importance of public trust in AI was also emphasized by Ivan Bratko, an AI research pioneer and computer science professor at the University of Ljubljana who is also a full member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

He noted the change in the public image of AI, its fast progress and expansion to many fields, including business, science, healthcare, environment and social media, as well as its role in dealing with global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.

However, he also listed some of the shortcomings, one of which is that AI at the moment works well only in narrow areas and well defined problems. There are also ethical issues as the technology can be used as a manipulation tool in social media for example.

Similarly, Marko Grobelnik of the Jožef Stefan Institute said a realistic threat was AI’s ability to quietly change the public opinion, something that he said was already happening.

He too noted the narrowness of today’s AI but said the AI that was being developed now would be able to cover much larger environments such as whole factories or cities. Replacing repetitive manual work, it would thus start changing the labour market, which would lead to a new social pact.

AI’s development and the risks entailed call for increasing regulation. Gregor Strojin, the chair of Ad hoc Committee on Artificial Intelligence of the Council of Europe, called for “sensible regulation entailing comprehensive solutions”.