Realizing the Potential of AI Localism

Stefaan G. Verhulst and Mona Sloane at Project Syndicate: “Every new technology rides a wave from hype to dismay. But even by the usual standards, artificial intelligence has had a turbulent run. Is AI a society-renewing hero or a jobs-destroying villain? As always, the truth is not so categorical.

As a general-purpose technology, AI will be what we make of it, with its ultimate impact determined by the governance frameworks we build. As calls for new AI policies grow louder, there is an opportunity to shape the legal and regulatory infrastructure in ways that maximize AI’s benefits and limit its potential harms.

Until recently, AI governance has been discussed primarily at the national level. But most national AI strategies – particularly China’s – are focused on gaining or maintaining a competitive advantage globally. They are essentially business plans designed to attract investment and boost corporate competitiveness, usually with an added emphasis on enhancing national security.

This singular focus on competition has meant that framing rules and regulations for AI has been ignored. But cities are increasingly stepping into the void, with New York, Toronto, Dubai, Yokohama, and others serving as “laboratories” for governance innovation. Cities are experimenting with a range of policies, from bans on facial-recognition technology and certain other AI applications to the creation of data collaboratives. They are also making major investments in responsible AI research, localized high-potential tech ecosystems, and citizen-led initiatives.

This “AI localism” is in keeping with the broader trend in “New Localism,” as described by public-policy scholars Bruce Katz and the late Jeremy Nowak. Municipal and other local jurisdictions are increasingly taking it upon themselves to address a broad range of environmental, economic, and social challenges, and the domain of technology is no exception.

For example, New York, Seattle, and other cities have embraced what Ira Rubinstein of New York University calls “privacy localism,” by filling significant gaps in federal and state legislation, particularly when it comes to surveillance. Similarly, in the absence of a national or global broadband strategy, many cities have pursued “broadband localism,” by taking steps to bridge the service gap left by private-sector operators.

As a general approach to problem solving, localism offers both immediacy and proximity. Because it is managed within tightly defined geographic regions, it affords policymakers a better understanding of the tradeoffs involved. By calibrating algorithms and AI policies for local conditions, policymakers have a better chance of creating positive feedback loops that will result in greater effectiveness and accountability….(More)”.