Local Ethicists And Tech Experts Raise Red Flag On Malta’s Artificial Intelligence Embrace

From job losses to data handling concerns

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Sophia was a 'guest of honour' when Malta launched its AI vision document

Malta’s rush to become a global hub for the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies has come under the critical eye of a group of local ethicists and tech experts.

In an open letter to parliamentary secretary Silvio Schembri, the seven experts (names at the end of the article) warned that the government’s vision document, launched earlier this month, doesn’t grapple with the job losses that AI will inevitably bring about.

“Estimates of the number of jobs at risk of displacement by AI-enabled automation over the next decade vary from one-in-8 to one-in-three jobs worldwide,” they said. “New jobs will also be created, as has been the case with other technological revolutions. Although experts disagree on what the net effect of these technologies will be, one thing that almost all economists agree on is that change is coming and that its scale and scope will be unprecedented.”

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They called on the national AI taskforce, chaired by Wayne Grixti, to instantly start proposing solutions for those people who will be rendered jobless by smart AI machines. Potential solutions include governmental support, such as the provision of a universal basic income and job guarantee schemes, as well as psychological support.

They also warned the vision document doesn’t pay enough attention to the sensitive topic of data ethics, insisting that the public be kept informed about how their personal data is obtained and managed to develop AI tools.

“This plays a central role in ensuring public trust in, and acceptance of, these technologies. As Facebook recently discovered with its massive share price fall following the Cambridge Analytica revelations in the UK, US and elsewhere, the public do not take kindly to being misled about how their personal data is used.”

At one point, the authors flagged the task force’s “fascination” with Artificial General Intelligence, i.e. developing AI to human levels of intelligence. Although the vision document makes no reference to AGI, the authors were likely referring to how the taskforce is consulting with tech company SingularityNET, whose founders proponents of AGI.

Sophia Malta

SingularityNet are behind the humanoid robot 'Sophia'

“The Maltese public deserves policy-making that is designed to tackle pertinent problems and that offers sensible, socially-beneficial solutions, while being forward-thinking and open to future developments in the field,” they said.

“The need at the moment is to support the responsible application of Artificial Narrow Intelligence in all aspects of society – industrial, commercial, research and development, education and government, rather than addressing a speculative future that will only be relevant if AGI is ever achieved.”

The authors are: Christopher Bugeja, science communication consultant; John Paul Cauchi, PhD student at Queensland University of Technology; Brian Delicata, technology consultant; Nadia Delicata, ethicist and theologist; Raisa Galea, editor of the left-wing website Isles of the Left; Matthew Pulis, computer scientist and MA Digital Theology candidate at Durham University.

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Written By

Tim Diacono

Tim Diacono tends to clam up when asked to describe himself. You can contact him on [email protected]