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Navigating the Legal and Ethical Dimensions of Machine Learning in the Age of AI

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

By Nana Khechikashvili

International Affairs Analyst

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the 21st century, the so-called ‘internet age’, there were certain expectations regarding the development of technology. It is safe to say, however, that almost no one expected the growth of artificial intelligence to be this rapid and somewhat uncontrollable. The ethical implications of these algorithms, especially concerning data privacy, present a critical challenge in our modern society. As we delve into this intricate reality, it is essential to strike a balance between innovation and responsibility.

The growing utilisation of machine learning techniques has raised significant legal and ethical concerns regarding data protection and privacy. Machine learning algorithms, while revolutionary, are not devoid of bias. These biases, often reflecting societal prejudices, can perpetuate discrimination and impede individual rights. For example, in 2015, Google's image recognition system was found to mislabel images of African-American individuals as "gorillas." This racially offensive mistake was later attributed to the limited representation of diverse racial groups in the training data used to develop the system.

Other than racist image tagging, there is an issue of gender bias. For example, in 2018, it was reported that Amazon had developed an AI-powered recruiting tool that used machine learning to review job applications and identify the best candidates. However, the system was found to exhibit gender bias because it was trained on resumes submitted to the company over 10 years, which were submitted predominantly by male applicants. This resulted in a system that penalized resumes containing terms associated with women, leading to discriminatory outcomes. These real-life examples demonstrate how limited data can introduce biases and have significant societal consequences in various domains.

The recent surge in AI-generated content, exemplified by platforms like ChatGPT, presents a unique ethical quandary. While these technologies offer unprecedented convenience, they blur the lines of authenticity and raise questions about user privacy. Conversations with AI systems often involve divulging personal information, sparking concerns about data security and consent. Moreover, the ethical responsibility of ensuring that AI-generated content adheres to legal standards rests firmly on the shoulders of developers and organizations.

In particular, European states have worked tirelessly to establish strong legislation regarding the rights of data subjects. Particularly, the data subject rights and consent requirements in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have been a prevalent topic for the past few years and the rapid development of artificial intelligence technology only made their significance more apparent. GDPR provides a comprehensive set of rights, including the right to rectification, erasure, and restriction of processing. These rights empower individuals to control their data and ensure its accuracy and integrity. Interestingly, the regulation acknowledges the potential risks associated with automated decision-making, including machine learning algorithms, which come about through Article 20’s right to ‘machine-readable’ personal data - it emphasises the rights of individuals to be informed about the logic, significance, and consequences of such processing, and to have the ability to consent to stopping any such process.

Looking ahead, we find ourselves on the verge of a regulatory era, when the intersection of technology, consumer behaviour, and legal frameworks needs urgent attention. The moral implications of machine learning, especially concerning privacy and data security, require a comprehensive and deliberate response from policymakers and other significant players. The increase in AI-generated content that has occurred recently is a clear indication of how pertinent this issue is and how immediately the required restrictions must be implemented. As we navigate this unexplored space while connecting the threads of justice and responsibility, we should aim to pave the way towards a future where technology aligns with human ideals.


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