29th Mar 2020


AI's ethical dilemma for EU

  • Chairwoman Lucy Nethsingha (Renew, UK): 'The main questions on the EU’s agenda, AI and climate change, will also be the main items on the JURI agenda' (Photo: European Union 2019 – Source: EP)

The legal affairs committee, also known as JURI, made headlines this year when it dethroned European Commission designates, over conflicts of interests.

The move helped cement the enforcement status of a European Parliament that had in the past struggled to gain an equal foothold with member state capitals.

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Lucy Nethsingha presides over JURI and is a UK national from Southampton, whose home country is prying itself away from the European Union.

A Liberal Democrat belonging to the Renew Europe group, Nethsingha however still maintains a long-term vision for a committee she may soon have to leave. The committee is responsible for the interpretation, application and monitoring of Union law.

She ranks Artificial Intelligence (AI) and climate change as among JURI's biggest priorities over the next five years.

Nethsingha says JURI's work on AI will have a particular impact on start-ups, as it hopes to help shape AI development and roll-out.

The committee's coordinators are looking at four broad areas, amid plans to draw up initiative reports on each: on an ethical framework, on state authority, on liability, and on intellectual property rights.

"A proper and balanced regulation on ethical aspects and on liability will help to build trust in this new technology," she says.

Those coordinators include Axel Voss (EPP, Germany), Tiemo Wölken (S&D, Germany), Karen Melchior (Renew, Denmark), Marie Toussaint (Greens/EFA, France), Angel Dzhambazki (ECR, Bulgaria), Manon Aubry (GUE/NGL, France) and Gilles Lebreton (ID, France).

If it works out, Nethsingha says getting the own initiative reports sorted and taken up by the commission would become the committee's biggest achievement.

Climate change will also figure large as JURI's input aims to untangle thorny issues like company law.

"We already know that the commission is preparing proposals on the question of sustainable corporate governance," says Nethsingha.

It means, among other things, that the committee will have to figure out if company obligations should only deal with sustainability in a climate change sense, or in a wider environmental sense.

The ethics of AI

Building machines that can reason and learn poses a slew of ethical questions. Some warn that the intelligence revolution in machines could lead to self-awareness, otherwise known as 'the singularity'.

Getting the right balance when it comes to the ethical aspects of artificial intelligence will likely be among the most difficult questions that will be posed in JURI.

Nethsingha says that balance needs to be weighed against AI's innovation, development and deployment.

"On the most divisive question, it is of course difficult to tell, but I think that our agenda will include questions regarding how far the duties of companies will stretch," she says.

Figuring out to what extent a company should have these duties and responsibilities in regard to their supply chains will also be difficult, notes Nethsingha.

"The most divisive question may be the nature of any obligations. Should they be mandatory or advisory? What should the consequences be if the rules are not followed?," she says.

This article first appeared in EUobserver's latest magazine, Who's Who in European Parliament Committees, which you can now read in full online.
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