AI Governance through Political Fora and Standards Developing Organizations


Report by Philippe Lorenz: “Shaping international norms around the ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is perceived as a new responsibility by foreign policy makers. This responsibility is accompanied by a desire to play an active role in the most important international fora. Given the limited resources in terms of time and budget, foreign ministries need to set priorities for their involvement in the gover­nance of AI. First and foremost, this requires an understanding of the entire AI governance landscape and the actors involved. The intention of this paper is to take a step back and familiarize foreign policy makers with the internal structures of the individual AI governance initiatives and the relationships between the involved actors. A basic understanding of the landscape also makes it easier to classify thematic developments and emerging actors, their agendas, and strategies.

This paper provides foreign policy practitioners with a mapping that can serve as a compass to navigate the complex web of stakeholders that shape the international debate on AI ethics. It plots political fora that serve as a platform for actors to agree upon ethical principles and pursue binding regulation. The mapping supplements the political purview with key actors who create technical standards on the ethics of AI. Furthermore, it describes the dynamic relationships between actors from these two domains. International governance addresses AI ethics through two different dimensions: political fora and Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs). Although it may be tempting to only engage on the diplomatic stage, this would be insufficient to help shape AI policy. Foreign policy makers must tend to both dimensions. While both governance worlds share the same topics and themes (in this case, AI ethics), they differ in their stakeholders, goals, outputs, and reach.

Key political and economic organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the European Commission (EC) address ethical concerns raised by AI technologies. But so do SDOs such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA). Although actors from the latter category are typically concerned with the development of standards that address terminology, ontology, and technical benchmarks that facilitate product interoperability and market access, they, too, address AI ethics.

But these discussions on AI ethics will be useless if they do not inform the development of concrete policies for how to govern the technology.
At international political fora, on the one hand, states shape the outputs that are often limited to non-binding, soft AI principles. SDOs, on the other hand, tend to the private sector. They are characterized by consensus-based decision-making processes that facilitate the adoption of industry standards. These fora are generally not accessible to (foreign) policy makers. Either because they exclusively cater to private sector and bar policy makers from joining, or because active participation requires in-depth technical expertise as well as industry knowledge which may surpass diplomats’ skill sets. Nonetheless, as prominent standard setting bodies such as ISO, IEC, and IEEE SA pursue industry standards in AI ethics, foreign policy makers need to take notice, as this will likely have consequences for their negotiations at international political fora.

The precondition for active engagement is to gain an overview of the AI Governance environment. Foreign policy practitioners need to understand the landscape of stakeholders, identify key actors, and start to strategically engage with questions relevant to AI governance. This is necessary to determine whether a given initiative on AI ethics is aligned with one’s own foreign policy goals and, therefore, worth engaging with. It is also helpful to assess industry dynamics that might affect geo-economic deliberations. Lastly, all of this is vital information to report back to government headquarters to inform policy making, as AI policy is a matter of domestic and foreign policy….(More)”.

The Post-pandemic Future of Trust in Digital Governance


Essay by Teresa Scassa: “Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, “trust” was a key concept for governments as they asked citizens to make a leap of faith into an increasingly digital and data-driven society. Canada’s Digital Charter was billed as a tool for “building a foundation of trust.” Australia’s Data & Digital Council issued Trust Principles. Trust was a key theme in “Strengthening Digital Government,” a statement from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Yet, in spite of this focus on trust, a 2017 study suggested disturbingly low levels of citizen trust in government’s handling of their data in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further laid bare this lack of trust in government. In the debates around contact-tracing apps it became clear that Western governments did not enjoy public trust when it came to data and technology. When they sought to use technology to support public health contact tracing during a pandemic, governments found that a lack of trust seriously constrained their options. Privacy advocates resisted contact-tracing technologies, raising concerns about surveillance and function creep. They had only to refer to the post-9/11 surveillance legacy to remind the public that “emergency” measures can easily become the new normal.

Working with privacy advocates, Google and Apple developed a fully decentralized model for contact tracing that largely left public health authorities out of the loop. Not trusting governments to set their own parameters for apps, Google and Apple dictated the rules. The Google-Apple Exposure Notification system is limited to only one app per country (creating challenges for Canada’s complicated federalism). It relies on Bluetooth only and does not collect location data. It requires full decentralization of data storage, demands that any app built on the protocol be used voluntarily and ensures post-pandemic decommissioning. Governments that saw value in collecting some centralized data — and possibly some GPS data — to support their data analyses and modelling found themselves with apps that operated less than optimally on Android or iOS platforms or that faced interoperability challenges with other apps in the “return to normal” phase….(More)”.

The Razor’s Edge: Liberalizing the Digital Surveillance Ecosystem


Report by CNAS: “The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating global trends in digital surveillance. Public health imperatives, combined with opportunism by autocratic regimes and authoritarian-leaning leaders, are expanding personal data collection and surveillance. This tendency toward increased surveillance is taking shape differently in repressive regimes, open societies, and the nation-states in between.

China, run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is leading the world in using technology to enforce social control, monitor populations, and influence behavior. Part of maximizing this control depends on data aggregation and a growing capacity to link the digital and physical world in real time, where online offenses result in brisk repercussions. Further, China is increasing investments in surveillance technology and attempting to influence the patterns of technology’s global use through the export of authoritarian norms, values, and governance practices. For example, China champions its own technology standards to the rest of the world, while simultaneously peddling legislative models abroad that facilitate access to personal data by the state. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic offers China and other authoritarian nations the opportunity to test and expand their existing surveillance powers internally, as well as make these more extensive measures permanent.

Global swing states are already exhibiting troubling trends in their use of digital surveillance, including establishing centralized, government-held databases and trading surveillance practices with authoritarian regimes. Amid the pandemic, swing states like India seem to be taking cues from autocratic regimes by mandating the download of government-enabled contact-tracing applications. Yet, for now, these swing states appear responsive to their citizenry and sensitive to public agitation over privacy concerns.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic offers China and other authoritarian nations the opportunity to test and expand their existing surveillance powers internally, as well as make these more extensive measures permanent.

Open societies and democracies can demonstrate global surveillance trends similar to authoritarian regimes and swing states, including the expansion of digital surveillance in the name of public safety and growing private sector capabilities to collect and analyze data on individuals. Yet these trends toward greater surveillance still occur within the context of pluralistic, open societies that feature ongoing debates about the limits of surveillance. However, the pandemic stands to shift the debate in these countries from skepticism over personal data collection to wider acceptance. Thus far, the spectrum of responses to public surveillance reflects the diversity of democracies’ citizenry and processes….(More)”.

Bringing Structure and Design to Data Governance


Report by John Wilbanks et al: “Before COVID-19 took over the world, the Governance team at Sage Bionetworks had started working on an analysis of data governance structures and systems to be published as a “green paper” in late 2020. Today we’re happy to publicly release that paper, Mechanisms to Govern Responsible Sharing of Open Data: A Progress Report.

In the paper, we provide a landscape analysis of models of governance for open data sharing based on our observations in the biomedical sciences. We offer an overview of those observations and show areas where we think this work can expand to supply further support for open data sharing outside the sciences.

The central argument of this paper is that the “right” system of governance is determined by first understanding the nature of the collaborative activities intended. These activities map to types of governance structures, which in turn can be built out of standardized parts — what we call governance design patterns. In this way, governance for data science can be easy to build, follow key laws and ethics regimes, and enable innovative models of collaboration. We provide an initial survey of structures and design patterns, as well as examples of how we leverage this approach to rapidly build out ethics-centered governance in biomedical research.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we argue for learning from ongoing data science collaborations and building on from existing standards and tools. And in so doing, we argue for data governance as a discipline worthy of expertise, attention, standards, and innovation.

We chose to call this report a “green paper” in recognition of its maturity and coverage: it’s a snapshot of our data governance ecosystem in biomedical research, not the world of all data governance, and the entire field of data governance is in its infancy. We have licensed the paper under CC-BY 4.0 and published it in github via Manubot in hopes that the broader data governance community might fill in holes we left, correct mistakes we made, add references and toolkits and reference implementations, and generally treat this as a framework for talking about how we share data…(More)”.

How to See What the World Is Teaching Us About COVID-19


Essay by Karabi Acharya: “At the global learning team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it has been exciting to see people looking at what the world can teach us, whether that be how China is handling COVID-19, South Korea’s drive-through testing, or New Zealand’s elimination of the virus under Jacinda Ardern’s leadership. Yet in a survey conducted by Candid in early 2020 of foundations located in the US, 73 percent of respondents reported that their domestic grantmaking was rarely or not at all informed or inspired by ideas and solutions from around the globe and beyond US borders. 

These practices may be shifting. Those of us working in philanthropy, government, and social change are trying to learn as much about COVID-19 as possible, and that naturally includes looking abroad. Yet what will we actually see when we do? Too often, our vision is obscured by bias, and as we try to distinguish news from noise, good intentions are often not enough. We must ask ourselves critical questions, and train ourselves to overcome our biases.

Here are four ways to see the world in a new light, as we look to come out of the pandemic’s darkness:

Seeing Beyond the Familiar

COVID-19 has no borders and the same with good ideas. But too often, we are limited by what has been called the “country of origin effect,” a psychological effect in which people understand the quality and relevance of an object or idea by the country it comes from. In short, we tend to look for ideas from countries that are demographically, culturally, economically, or politically similar to us. In the US, this can mean we overvalue learning from Europe and undervalue learning from low- and middle-income countries.

Yet countries like Nigeria have much to teach us about contract tracing and mitigation from their experience eradicating the Ebola outbreak, just as Ghana’s innovative testing and taxation policies (including a three month tax holiday for health care workers) are balancing protecting health and the economy. In example after example of necessity being the mother of invention, African nations are leading the way in innovation: developing low-cost tests for under $1, using zipline drones to transport the tests to testing sites, and leveraging its cashless digital payment infrastructure to facilitate social distancing. Another often-ignored source of inspiration are Indigenous cultural practices, where ideas and practices centered around collective well-being can be instructive for us as we tackle issues of inequity arising out of COVID…

In other words, we look to other countries with the hope that doing so will change how we see our own, opening our imaginations to new ideas, solutions, and futures. This is only possible if we can overcome our biases that impair our ability to see the solutions around us. 

COVID-19 will be studied for generations to come. But what the world will learn will depend on what we were able to see today. Did we seek out solutions from every corner of the world? Did we bring on the journey those who would most benefit from what the world had to offer? Did we recognize the underlying conditions that exacerbate inequity or help overcome it? Was our imagination strong enough to see how we can create the kind of society that allows everyone the opportunity to live healthy and happier lives?…(More)”

The Road Back to College Is Paved with Barriers, but Behavioral Science Can Help Smooth the Way


Blog by Katherine Flaschen and Ben Castleman: “In order to create the most effective solutions, policymakers and educators need to better understand a fundamental question: Why do so many of these students, many of whom have already made substantial progress toward their degree, fail to return to college and graduate? …

With a better understanding of the barriers preventing people who intend to finish their degree from following through, policymakers and colleges can create solutions that meaningfully meet students’ needs and help them re-enroll. As states across the country face rising unemployment rates, it’s critical to design and test interventions that address these behavioral barriers and help thousands of citizens who are out of work due to the COVID-19 crisis consider their options for going back to school.

For example, colleges could provide monetary incentives to students for taking actions related to re-enrollment that overcome these barriers, such as speaking with an advisor, reviewing upcoming recommended courses and developing a course plan, and making an active choice about when to return to college. In addition, SCND students could be paired with current students to serve as peer mentors, both to provide support with the re-enrollment process and to hold them accountable for degree completion (especially if faced with difficult remaining classes). Community colleges could also encourage major employers of the SCND population in high-demand fields, like health care, to provide options for employees to finish their degree while working (e.g., via tuition reimbursement programs), translate degree attainment into concrete career returns, and identify representatives within the company, such as recent graduates, to promote re-enrollment and make it a more salient opportunity….(More)”.

Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Policy


Book edited by Maggie WalterTahu KukutaiStephanie Russo Carroll and Desi Rodriguez-Lonebear: “This book examines how Indigenous Peoples around the world are demanding greater data sovereignty, and challenging the ways in which governments have historically used Indigenous data to develop policies and programs.

In the digital age, governments are increasingly dependent on data and data analytics to inform their policies and decision-making. However, Indigenous Peoples have often been the unwilling targets of policy interventions and have had little say over the collection, use and application of data about them, their lands and cultures. At the heart of Indigenous Peoples’ demands for change are the enduring aspirations of self-determination over their institutions, resources, knowledge and information systems.

With contributors from Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, North and South America and Europe, this book offers a rich account of the potential for Indigenous data sovereignty to support human flourishing and to protect against the ever-growing threats of data-related risks and harms….(More)”.

The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI


Book edited by Markus D. Dubber, Frank Pasquale, and Sunit Das: “This volume tackles a quickly-evolving field of inquiry, mapping the existing discourse as part of a general attempt to place current developments in historical context; at the same time, breaking new ground in taking on novel subjects and pursuing fresh approaches.

The term “A.I.” is used to refer to a broad range of phenomena, from machine learning and data mining to artificial general intelligence. The recent advent of more sophisticated AI systems, which function with partial or full autonomy and are capable of tasks which require learning and ‘intelligence’, presents difficult ethical questions, and has drawn concerns from many quarters about individual and societal welfare, democratic decision-making, moral agency, and the prevention of harm. This work ranges from explorations of normative constraints on specific applications of machine learning algorithms today-in everyday medical practice, for instance-to reflections on the (potential) status of AI as a form of consciousness with attendant rights and duties and, more generally still, on the conceptual terms and frameworks necessarily to understand tasks requiring intelligence, whether “human” or “A.I.”…(More)”.

Digital Diplomacy and International Organisations: Autonomy, Legitimacy and Contestation


Book edited by Corneliu Bjola and Ruben Zaiotti: “This book examines how international organisations (IOs) have struggled to adapt to the digital age, and with social media in particular.

The global spread of new digital communication technologies has profoundly transformed the way organisations operate and interact with the outside world. This edited volume explores the impact of digital technologies, with a focus on social media, for one of the major actors in international affairs, namely IOs. To examine the peculiar dynamics characterising the IO–digital nexus, the volume relies on theoretical insights drawn from the disciplines of International Relations, Diplomatic Studies, Media, and Communication Studies, as well as from Organisation Studies.

The volume maps the evolution of IOs’ “digital universe” and examines the impact of digital technologies on issues of organisational autonomy, legitimacy, and contestation. The volume’s contributions combine engaging theoretical insights with newly compiled empirical material and an eclectic set of methodological approaches (multivariate regression, network analysis, content analysis, sentiment analysis), offering a highly nuanced and textured understanding of the multifaceted, complex, and ever-evolving nature of the use of digital technologies by international organisations in their multilateral engagements….(More)”.

Covid-19 is spurring the digitisation of government


The Economist: “…Neither health care nor Britain is unique in relying heavily on paper. By preventing face-to-face meetings and closing the offices where bureaucrats shuffle documents, the pandemic has revealed how big a problem that is. Around the world, it has been impossible to get a court hearing, a passport or get married while locked down, since they all still require face-to-face interactions. Registering a business has been slower or impossible. Courts are a mess; elections a worrying prospect.

Governments that have long invested in digitising their systems endured less disruption. Those that have not are discovering how useful it would be if a lot more official business took place online.

Covid-19 has brought many aspects of bureaucratic life to a halt. In England at least 73,400 weddings had to be delayed—not just the ceremony, also the legal part—reckons the Office for National Statistics. In France courts closed in March for all but essential services, and did not reopen until late May. Most countries have extended visas for foreigners trapped by the pandemic, but consular services stopped almost everywhere. In America green-card applications were halted in April; they restarted in June. In Britain appointments to take biometric details of people applying for permanent residency ceased in March and only resumed partly in June.

Some applications cannot be delayed and there the pandemic has revealed the creakiness of even rich countries’ bureaucracies. As Florida was locking down, huge queues formed outside government offices to get the paper forms needed to sign up for unemployment insurance. In theory the state has a digital system, but it was so poorly set up that many could not access it. At the start of the pandemic the website crashed for days. Even several months later people trying to apply had to join a digital queue and wait for hours before being able to log in. In Alabama when government offices in Montgomery, the state capital, reopened, people camped outside, hoping to see an official who might help with their claims.

Where services did exist online, their inadequacies became apparent. Digital unemployment-insurance systems collapsed under a wave of new claimants. At the end of March the website of the INPS, the Italian social-security office, received 300,000 applications for welfare in a single day. The website crashed. Some of those who could access it were shown other people’s data. The authorities blamed not just the volume of applicants but also hackers trying to put in fraudulent claims. Criminals were a problem in America too. In the worst-affected state, Washington, $550m-650m, or one dollar in every eight, was paid out to fraudsters who exploited an outdated system of identity verification (about $300m was recovered)….

the pandemic has revealed that governments need to operate in new ways. This may mean the introduction of proper digital identities, which many countries lack. Track-and-trace systems require governments to know who their citizens are and to be able to contact them reliably. Estonia’s officials can do so easily; Britain’s and America’s cannot. In China in order to board public transport or enter their own apartment buildings people have to show QR codes on their phones to verify that they have not been to a virus hotspot recently….(More)”.