Tackling inequality in the age of AI

Through AI, we have a huge opportunity to improve our daily lives. We as Europeans are at this very important historical juncture of our human relationship with machines and technology

The exponential age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has just begun. AI has reached a stage where people are starting to feel it on their daily habits. A case in point is the recent launch of products like Chat-GPT, its latest version GPT-4, and all other new AI digital products that are growing exponentially and re-defining our way of doing things, now and soon enough.

With such a revolutionary progress on our productivity, we need to understand the implications on people’s livelihoods, especially when it comes to distribution of wealth, their fundamental rights and responsibilities, and their current and future employment challenges and opportunities.

This raises the importance that we as Europeans continue to evolve our social market economic model to ensure that inequalities between people are managed sustainably, and we don’t end up with ever increasing inequalities between regions and member states. This is what we as Socialists and Democrats Group (S&D) are working for in the European Parliament (EP) through the new EU AI Act.

Many stakeholders argue that AI will re-define how you and me improve our educational achievements, our health treatment outcomes, our access to information, our scanning of data, and other achievements that we never dreamed of before. With AI, small and large organizations and businesses can become much more efficient and effective in achieving their multiple outcomes and objectives.

This all sounds great. However, like what happened in every past technological revolution even going back to the steam engine 200 years ago, inequalities between the have and have-nots have always increased dramatically, especially during the early years following such technological inventions.

Trying to understand the sources for these inequalities is key to understand what our European regulations and directives should prioritise to help create a European social environment that promotes cohesion and solidarity between European regions and member states.

Access to data, finance and resources have always been the key determinants for different levels of societal inequalities. As we all know, different European citizens have different levels of access. In the past, inequalities used to be defined in terms of physical objects. Nowadays, we cannot talk about inequalities without mentioning the digital dimension, especially when AI can be controlled by a very few numbers of people who can exert huge power over all the rest of us.

The general tendency has always shown that existing systems always favour those people who already possess their own resources due to their lower risk profiles. The problem with this is that existing practices are biased towards the haves rather than the have-nots.

Basically, momentum creates more momentum, efficiencies create more efficiencies, and therefore creates more inequality between people, regions, and member states. In short, efficiencies and equality of opportunity do not go always hand in hand, and it must be our political will as Europeans to find the right balance between them.

The main challenge for every citizen is to be empowered and autonomous enough to take his or her own free decisions. AI is challenging all this freedom to choose freely, and for that reason, we as S&D Group welcomes the AI Act proposed by the European Commission to clearly define the kind of AI we want in Europe, and to give the EU the role of a global standard-setter.

Due to AI’s complexity, European citizens needs protection from such complex information which cannot be digested fully by laypeople who feel powerless and alienated. Our discussions in the European Parliament should go beyond the legal text and be more about how regulations and directives can be felt by European citizens in their daily consumption of data.

AI is even more complex than subject areas like financial products and food production markets. Even so, due to the complexity of financial products, European legislators and regulators require all banks and other financial products providers to provide all the required information to buyers of financial products.

On the other hand, food consumers in the EU are being protected through EU regulated high quality controls and information provided through easy-to-understand labelling on the food products they buy and consume. All these quality controls and easier understanding of information are contributing towards better and more autonomous decisions by European citizens.

The same policy regulatory principles of simplicity and individual protections should also be applied to our experiences with AI. We cannot continue having instances where people end up being the products of platforms who use such data for advertising and profit maximization purposes. We as European Parliament, must ensure that people have the power to choose what type of technology they want to consume, based on clearer information.

As S&D, we want to have a situation where people are truly equal in understanding what they are consuming, and how they can defend their rights through robust redress mechanisms in all European member states. We want European citizens to know the company who is providing such technological services, and where to send their complaints to the relevant regulators and supervisors. As European Parliamentarians, we want to make sure that people are not feeling powerless in face of AI complexity. We must ensure that all people in the European Union understand easily and quickly at the point of consumption of technology.

The issue of AI is multi-dimensional and global. However, we cannot discuss AI without referring to the local level. It’s really at the local level where citizens can understand, trust, and feel the impact they are experiencing in their daily lives. It is at this very level where inequalities must be tackled by member state governments in conjunction with the European institutions. We cannot pretend that all people will have equal access to data without understanding their local realities.

Closer to home, I encourage the responsible Maltese institutions to continue making all people aware about the risks and opportunities of AI. We should continue pushing Malta on the AI map to create higher value-added jobs, while ensuring that our Maltese language will continue to be fully relevant in this AI age. Making sure that learned lessons from AI practices sips through the public and private sectors would increase our economic competitiveness, and our agility to change as a country in a fast-changing world.

While our economy is very important for our livelihoods, we must ensure that the benefits of AI are fully enjoyed by every person and organization fairly and equitably, not only in monetary terms but also in terms of our European quality of life.

Through AI, we have a huge opportunity to improve our daily lives. We as Europeans are at this very important historical juncture of our human relationship with machines and technology.

Achieving a balance between economic improvement through AI and ensuring equality of opportunity for everyone will be the key to reduce the concentration of power in the hands of the few and ensure that people don’t feel more alienated from our democracies and politics.