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INTERVIEW/German author calls for AI regulations to curb encroachment on freedom

02/27/2024 03:21 PM
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German writer Bijan Moini at the 2024 Taipei International Book Exhibition. CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024
German writer Bijan Moini at the 2024 Taipei International Book Exhibition. CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024

By Teng Pei-ju, CNA staff reporter

Describing himself as a "strong defender of strong regulations" on the applications of artificial intelligence (AI), German writer Bijan Moini has expressed concern that the powerful technological tool was gradually "eating away" at individual freedom.

Regulations are "absolutely essential to reining in the worst effects" of the use of AI, said Moini, author of "Save Our Freedom: A Wake-Up Call in Digital Times," the Chinese version of which was launched at the Taipei book fair last week.

The book aims to draw attention to how AI is used, the application of which Moini said has empowered human society but can also present challenges to freedom when it is exploited for the benefit of some actors, rather than being used for the public good.

The Berlin-based lawyer and civil rights campaigner compared AI regulations to food safety regulations, arguing that it would be "fair" to make issuers liable for any harm resulting from the use of their products.

According to the author, Open AI would not have launched its large language model ChatGPT if it was going to be held responsible for misinformation campaigns orchestrated by users until it could guarantee that such incidents would not occur.

Tech companies should not release a product if they cannot ensure the safety of those using it, Moini said during an interview with CNA in Taipei, despite acknowledging that enforcing this responsibility would be "a radical step that no one is ready to take yet."

Bijan Moini (left) engages with Taiwanese sci-fi writer Chi Ta-wei (紀大偉) to talk about his book at the 2024 Taipei International Book Exhibition on Feb. 24. CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024
Bijan Moini (left) engages with Taiwanese sci-fi writer Chi Ta-wei (紀大偉) to talk about his book at the 2024 Taipei International Book Exhibition on Feb. 24. CNA photo Feb. 24, 2024

At the same time, he said there was always a risk of overregulation, pointing to the need for policymakers to be "very precise and very careful in what exactly you want to achieve."

In his book, which was first published in Germany in 2020, Moini identified three "bad actors" that have utilized AI for "manipulation" of the public, including private corporations, governments and right-wing populists.

Tech giants have profited from user data collection and analysis for targeted advertising with the help of machine learning and other AI tools, Moini said.

"An entire industry thrives on predicting our behavior and seducing us" and yet "we do not have the right to decide" what tech companies do with the data, he wrote in the book.

Moini also called government agencies out for employing AI for extensive surveillance under the guise of security and thus threatening privacy and human rights.

At the same time, he continued, right-wing populists around the world have exploited social media to spread false information and incite hatred and rage.

Moini told CNA that the book, released in Germany one year after the publication of his science fiction novel on AI titled "The Cube," was intended to "raise awareness" of the power of AI and its potential negative effects.

People have been "too naive" about the applications of AI, according to Moini.

Four years on from the book's debut, the author said he was increasingly concerned about the lack of regulations on AI applications.

While the European Union has introduced the General Data Protection Regulation to try to safeguard personal data privacy, similar legislation is "practically impossible" in the United States, he said.

He added that the continued rise of right-wing populism in the U.S. "would be a catastrophe beyond American democracy."

Even though future generations may perceive the concept of privacy differently, the author viewed it as the responsibility of the present generation to prevent the creation of a world akin to a "prison," where one is watched and everything is recorded.

Bijan Moini (third left) speaks with members of Acdemia Sinica on AI during a symposium at the 2024 Taipei International Book Exhibition on Feb. 21. CNA photo Feb. 21, 2024
Bijan Moini (third left) speaks with members of Acdemia Sinica on AI during a symposium at the 2024 Taipei International Book Exhibition on Feb. 21. CNA photo Feb. 21, 2024

Moini said while trying to "disturb" the common positive narrative surrounding AI development was "not pleasant," he remained steadfast in his belief that it is "imperative ... to realize the detrimental potential [of AI] and to curb it as fast as we can."

"I love democracy ... I think one very important part of democracy is to be ever critical of the government and questioning their powers of surveillance," Moini said. "It is fundamental for us to remain a free society, and this belief has only strengthened over time."

The Chinese version of Moini's book, titled "拯救我們的自由:數位時代的起床號," was launched by Yuan-Liou Publishing Co., Ltd during the Taipei International Book Exhibition from Feb. 20-25.

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