Both the rapidly increasing ubiquity and the power of AI can feel terrifying, but at least AIs aren’t running the world yet, right?
Well, maybe not the world, but how about Romania? The country’s prime minister Nicolae Ciuca has just announced an AI assistant called “Ion” as the government’s “new honorary advisor.”
“Hello. You gave me life. I am Ion. Now, my role is to represent you. Like a mirror,” Ion said while introducing itself at a press conference, as quoted by The Washington Post.
Voice of the People
With a mirror-like, monolithic body and a somber, deep voice, you’d be forgiven for comparing Ion to HAL 9000 from the sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But instead of being in charge of a mere spaceship, Ion is responsible for gauging the sentiments of an entire country.
“Ion will do, through artificial intelligence, what no human can: listen to all Romanians and represent them before the government of Romania,” Ciuca said.
And by listen, Ciuca really does mean listen. The AI will crawl social media to collect citizens’ opinions and grievances, and then amalgamate and interpret these back to the government as policy ideas, who, at least in theory, will use the feedback to inform their decisions.
Concerned citizens can also interact with Ion directly by using a provided web portal if they’re really eager to get their point across.
Call for Transparency
The process that Ion uses to pick out social media posts, categorize them, and then formulate policies is about as transparent as its steely, mirrored exterior — that is to say, not very transparent at all.
For critics, that’s something to worry about. If Ion’s workings aren’t transparent, how can its citizens, whom it practically surveils, know it isn’t being biased? Could it single those with dissenting opinions out and glean their real identities?
In short, it’s a thorny, ethical nightmare waiting to unfold.
“Romanians should be informed and explained how this AI tool selects important posts, and on what criteria,” demanded Kris Shrishak, an expert on AI regulation at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, in an interview with the WaPo. “This should be explained to the public.”
Besides, how good are AIs at gauging human opinions, wants, desires, and feelings? If Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot is any indicator, probably not very.