Why the Development of Artificial Intelligence Should Be Democratised Xuanyue Guo, Marieke Knorz, Chaitanya Pandey, Aleksandra Warkocka


Is AI representative of the whole population?

The development of artificial intelligence has changed the world fundamentally. It is deeply integrated into our daily lives in various forms such as Siri, the Apple voice assistant, and automated movie recommendation systems on Netflix. However, the conveniences made possible by artificial intelligence and the concerns about it go hand in hand. A monumental issue that lies in the development of AI is the fact that its course will be determined by a small number of corporations and not by society at large. That is why we suggest the idea of democratization of artificial intelligence. Its development should be decentralised and representative of society as a whole.

AI is everywhere

Currently, artificial intelligence is used in a variety of areas, such as forecasting and recruiting, as well as search engines and self-driving cars, amongst others. It is so intertwined with, and seemingly hidden within the products, that it may not be obvious to consumers that they are using AI-based devices. Big companies such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon focus a lot on the development of artificial intelligence, and with their financial resources, they can achieve significant developments and progress. This results in the development of artificial intelligence being guided by a handful of big corporations, a phenomenon known as ‘technocracy’​.(1)​

Why technocracy is problematic

The fact that artificial intelligence is further developed exclusively by big corporations can contribute to unequal access to new technologies for the people living in regions where the development of artificial intelligence is slow. This can make the gap​ between wealthy and poor more pronounced​.(2) Other problems, resulting from AI being developed by a sample of people not representative of the whole population, include bias and discrimination which are already present in artificial intelligence algorithms. This became apparent to the public eye after a scandal in 2015 when Google Photo software identified two​ people of African American origin with images of gorillas.(3) Another similar case occurred​ when Amazon software automatically downgraded the CVs of female applicants​.(4) These examples illustrate the burning issues of ethical violations and systematic bias in artificial intelligence. Therefore, it is important to focus on democratic development so that all voices are heard and to ensure a diverse representation of society and equal access to artificial intelligence.

Ethical AI

The course of the development of artificial intelligence can still be altered, and it is important that it is manoeuvred in a direction where the outcome is beneficial to society as a whole. Ethical artificial intelligence can only be achieved when the way it is developed is already ethical. It is crucial in the current scenario that public interventions and legislations are included in the development of artificial intelligence. Initiatives from public bodies such as the United Nations and the European Commission​ focus on providing legislative frameworks for the development of artificial intelligence in a safe and ethical manner. It is also important that there are initiatives to increase public understanding of artificial intelligence. The lack of knowledge of artificial intelligence among the general public is causing a vast amount of people not to be able to participate in the discourse for the development of AI. Alongside these interventions, governments should increase public funding to support smaller developers and initiatives in the field of artificial intelligence, as a way to decentralise the power distribution.

The greatest invention – but only if regulated and democratised

The potential of artificial intelligence is immense and so far has afforded society many conveniences. A portion of society has experienced the advantages of this – but at an expense: issues like corporate-centred development, algorithmic bias and human rights violations are unfortunately a component of the use of AI today. The future of artificial intelligence is dependent on the actions we take today. While artificial intelligence could be the greatest innovation in the history of humankind, it also needs to be regulated and developed in a manner that positively affects societies at large. One of the promising approaches might be democratising the process of AI development. By doing so, people from a variety of backgrounds will have the ability to influence the course of the development of artificial intelligence. To achieve this, society, governments and tech companies need to come together.