“Smart devices surveilling our lives. Artificial intelligence technologies steering our behaviour. Care robots hindering human contact”

  • Smart devices surveilling our lives.
  • Artificial intelligence technologies steering our behaviour.
  • Care robots hindering human contact.

Does this sound terrifying? Inevitable?
It does not have to be. Time for a wake-up call.

This is the beginning of the report “Human rights in the robot age“, written by Rinie van Est and Joost Gerritsen of the Dutch Rathenau Institute, assisted by Linda Kool.


In my previous post I wrote on the necessity of counterbalancing the techoptimists that believe new technical possibilities automatically lead to a better world. The Rathenau Institute is providing such counterbalance. In several reports it pays attention to the consequences of new technologies.

This new report is very interesting. It was written on request of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Challenges of the digital age

Jean-Yves Le Déaut of PACE wrote the following preface to the report:

Science and technology are having an increasing impact on society. The new challenges of the digital age, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and genome editing are leading to accelerated changes as their applications enter the market, but the understanding of them is incomplete.

These technological fields combine nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive technology (NBIC). They represent very powerful developments, often characterised by their irreversible and uncertain nature.

The boundaries between the medical and the non-medical and the non-living and the living are fading. We have moved on from a human being that is taken care of well to a healed person, and what is looming on the horizon now is an enhanced human being.

The Rathenau Instituut has written a high-quality report which analyses these new technological advancements against the background of bioethical principles.

The protection of personal data, the fair and lawful processing of big data and the Internet of Things all create challenges for the legislator, because there is no real transparency in relation to algorithms. The right to respect for private life is a concern too, since various IT applications aim to change people’s attitudes or behaviour. Such persuasive activities may undermine people’s autonomy and self- determination, and also their freedom of thought and conscience.

So-called electronic coaches allow a form of voluntary self-monitoring, but in reality the recorded data create digital representations of the self in an opaque manner.

Care robots have been equipped with artificial intelligence, but they could influence the quality of human relationships by keeping the individual in a virtual world.

This report analyses the safety of robots and artificial intelligence artefacts and the respective responsibilities of the designer, the operator and the user, as well as the consequences for human dignity, freedom of expression, ownership, the security of robots and artificial intelligence artefacts, discrimination and access to justice.

It is on the basis of this thorough and relevant analysis that I propose as rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE):

– to strengthen the legislation of the public authorities and equip individuals with legal means to resist pressures or constraints that would subject them to technologies which would enhance their performances,
– to ensure transparency and raise public awareness,
– to define the responsibilities of the actors involved in automatic processing aimed at the collection, use and treatment of personal data,
– to create a common normative framework for artificial intelligence artefacts,
– to require that any machine, robot or artificial intelligence artefact remains under human control,
– to establish a right to be let alone, that is to say a right to refuse to be subjected to profiling, to have one’s location tracked or to be manipulated, and the right to meaningful human contact,
– to establish cooperation between the Council of Europe, the European Union and UNESCO to develop a harmonised legal framework and regulatory mechanisms at the international level.

Innovation is desirable if it provides a service to society. Progress is useful if it is controlled and shared.

This report by the Rathenau Instituut and my parliamentary report that includes the recommendations of the Council of Europe both agree that we are working towards achieving a fine balance between artificial intelligence and human rights.

It shows that if we do nothing the world might become an unpleasant place.

Meer informatie

Over Ellen Timmer

Weblog: https://ellentimmer.com/ ||| Microblog: https://mastodon.nl/@ellent ||| Motto: goede bedoelingen rechtvaardigen geen slechte regels
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