As the 2023 election campaign enters its final days, there is an elephant in the room that politicians seem keen to ignore: the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and what it will mean for the economy, New Zealand politics and society.
Developments over the past year, such as ChatGPT and Midjourney, have AI experts worried on the deeper consequences of these digital tools.
As a society, we rely on government to take the lead on important issues like this. But candidates for elections this year have barely mentioned the subject. This relative silence should worry everyone.
The future of AI is getting closer
During recent election debate, leaders of both major political parties were asked whether AI poses a threat to humanity. Labour’s Chris Hipkins said “potentially”, while National’s Christopher Luxon said “there are good parts and bad parts”.
The leaders were also asked about a potential AI tax to support workers who will eventually lose their jobs because of this type of technology. Hipkins said he “didn’t know how to do that,” and Luxon said he thought “we’re a long way from that.”
But we are not.
In May 2023, 4,000 jobs were lost to AI in the United States only. Global business consulting firm McKinsey said 12 million American workers will have to change jobs by 2030 due to Generative AI – artificial intelligence capable of generating text, images and other media.
But AI will have broader societal implications than its impact on employment. Over the past two decades, social media has contributed to an increase in misinformation, disinformation and political polarization. New, more human-like AI robots – software programmed to automatically perform repetitive tasks – will pose these threats. even more omnipresentand more difficult to fight.
The use of AI in healthcare, government, employment and other contexts has the potential to strengthen prejudices and prejudicesleading to inequitable outcomes.
This is particularly true in Aotearoa, where AI models trained on Westernized data ignore tikanga Māori and data sovereignty. AI is also putting minority languages at risk defaulting to English
New Zealand is lagging behind
The New Zealand government has been enthusiastic using AI in the public service – from optimal planning of public hospital beds to helping decide whether an offender should be released from prison. But local lawmakers lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to regulating technology.
The European Union AI Law is expected to be passed by the end of 2023. This legislation is complex, but it will essentially classify AI tools into different risk categories (from prohibited uses to no risk), with corresponding legislative requirements for deployment and monitoring.
Canada announced a voluntary code of conduct with six core principles that organizations should follow when developing safe and responsible generative AI systems.
Even in the United States – considered the center of AI innovation – individuals states pass laws combat perceived threats from AI. At the federal level, the judicial branch of the Senate has held hearings on the regulation of AI.
There may be (small) signs of progress at home. In July, the Office of the Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister published an article on New Zealand’s current response to AI and regulatory challenges.
Labor was recently released election manifesto mentions AI twice in its 74 pages, with the promise of a “just transition” for workers affected by AI. But the manifesto does not describe what this transition would look like.
National “Stimulating the technology sector” policy document says a new “technology minister” will ensure AI is used “safely and ethically” – without detailing what that means or how it will be applied.
The Green Party digital policy provides general principles for regulating digital technology, such as social responsibility (reducing inequality) and honoring Te Tiriti. However, again, the policy does not specifically address AI.
Other parties do not appear to have technology policies readily available on their websites.
Leaders must go further on AI
Clearly, there is some way to go in terms of policy development. New Zealand needs stronger data privacy laws, recognizing data is a taonga (treasure) and which require informed consent for use in the training and treatment of AI.
And there must be regulation on what can and cannot be automated with AI. For example, should the government automate benefit eligibility decisions or should the court system use AI to light sentences?
Economically, how can we retain the benefits of AI applications using local data in New Zealand? Without a clear, local AI strategy, Aotearoa will miss the opportunity to promote AI that benefits everyone.
Without active government regulation, New Zealanders and their political system could be vulnerable to manipulation by malicious foreign interests.
The country must invest in its workforce to respond to the changes brought about by AI and adopt Driven by Maori AI Research that establishes New Zealand as a creator of technologies that work for its people, not against them.