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Badly implemented AI could ‘jeopardize democracy,’ says French president Emmanuel Macron

The Verge logo The Verge 4/2/2018 James Vincent
Emmanuel Macron wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Verge

France has announced a new national AI strategy, including government funding worth nearly €1.5 billion ($1.85 billion). But the country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, is worried about the damage this technology could do if not properly guided. In an interview with Wired, he said there was even a risk AI could “jeopardize democracy.”

Macron is worried about unaccountable “black box” algorithms being introduced into society and making decisions formerly entrusted to humans. He gave the example of an algorithm used to sort students into universities, and said that if its workings were not easy to understand, it could destroy trust and encourage people to “reject” innovation. “I have to be confident for my people that there is no bias, at least no unfair bias, in this algorithm,” he said.

In order to guard against this threat, Macron said the French government will do its best to open up data used by AI systems and pressure private companies to do the same. “Obviously some of them will say, there is a commercial value in my algorithm, I don’t want to make it transparent. But I think we need a fair discussion between service providers and consumers, who are also citizens,” said Macron.


In the interview, the French president also stressed that Europe needed to play a bigger role in shaping the future of artificial intelligence. He identified the US and China as the sector’s current leaders, but said neither country’s values were fully aligned with those of Europe. In the US, said Macron, work is “entirely driven by the private sector,” while in China, research is “driven by a government whose principles and values are not ours.”

The European Union has historically championed digital privacy, and passes legislation that empowers individual to better control their own data. (As demonstrated by the recent General Data Protection Regulation). Macron said that if the continent wanted to carry these values forward into the 21st century it will have to be “an acting part of this AI revolution” and help “frame the discussion at a global scale.”

Macron’s worries echo those of many within the AI community, who praise the technology’s potential benefits but warn it could lead to all sorts of dangerous situation — especially if it is abused by power-hungry corporations or totalitarian governments. And as with other types of new technology, the solution will inevitably be one that involves citizens and governments, not just companies. As Macron told Wired: “This leads me to the conclusion that this huge technological revolution is in fact a political revolution.”


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