|dc.description.abstract||Abstract: The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 is not the first such public health crisis we have faced, nor indeed the most lethal; however, it has occurred at the perfect time to foreground a number of key issues central to the role of AI in society at individual, national, and global levels. This paper will examine the use of AI-driven systems to respond to the current situation, arguing that it marks a limit case for the employment of new technologies (most notably pervasive telecommunication). It will focus on three main concerns:
UTILITY: what might AI systems offer as tools for risk/harm mitigation in situations such as these? A pandemic is the perfect domain for Big Data analysis, but there is also huge potential for transnational coordination of research, logistics, and necessary manufacture.
MORALITY: AI-supported contact tracking apps (as used in Singapore and Australia) enable rapid mapping of infection spread, and the possibility of identifying key vectors, but there is a vital debate to be had about surveillance, consent, and government control of citizens through the bulk collection of data. Any discussion of AI is always an ethical conversation.
AUTHORITY: we have already seen a proliferation of misinformation concerning Covid-19 distributed online; much of this, it seems, comes from utterly unreliable sources, as deliberate acts of of Information Warfare by State actors. AI offers the potential to generate highly specific messages designed to influence their targets, and distribute them further and faster than at any time in history. ‘Fake News’ has become literally lethal; how can nations and individuals employ AI systems to inoculate themselves against highly infectious, harmful ideas?
The paper discusses key components of a Code of Conduct for the use of AI balancing the need for effective and rapid threat mitigation with essential human rights. The British Prime Minister has quoted Cicero’s ‘Salus populi suprema lex esto’ [the health of the people is the supreme law’]; the severity of the current crisis must not blind us to the fact that the health of the body politic is a matter of morality as much as medicine.||en