Committee on Social and Legal Affairs explores AI-related ethical and legal issues


Artificial intelligence (AI) is a strategic technology leading a new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation. A double-edged sword, AI has not only profoundly changed people's lifestyles and social communication but also brought about ethical and legal risks and challenges to the world at the same time.

Chen Xiaoguang and Wang Yongqing, vice-chairmen of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, led members of the Committee on Social and Legal Affairs of the CPPCC National Committee on survey trips themed on AI-related ethical and legal issues to the eastern provinces of Anhui and Jiangsu from Sept 13 to 18.

Potential risks behind 'facial recognition'

Tan Jianfeng, a member of the CPPCC National Committee, opposed using sole biometric information such as facial information for authentication. In his view, there is no secure way to ensure that biometric data will not be abused and if all kinds of biometric data are centralized in a database and then collected on an insecure network, social risks may arise if the database is attacked.

He reiterated his view at a symposium with related departments of Anhui and Jiangsu during the surveys.

At this year's two sessions, Tan, who works in the network security technology industry, called for protecting the privacy of biometric data.

He held that the leakage of such data would endanger not only the privacy, property and personal safety of ordinary people, but also social and national security if it is acquired by illegal forces at home and abroad.

Tan insisted that biometric data must not be kept in the cloud platform, as no such platforms throughout the world can provide "100 percent" security.

He suggested individuals minimize the use of biometric data, or only use them in less sensitive situations.

Key data issues can't be left to enterprises, said Wang Pengfei, a CPPCC National Committee member.

Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Social and Legal Affairs Chen Zhimin pointed out a "horrible" fact: a large number of data are sold illegally.

Many CPPCC National Committee members of the survey team agreed that data security and privacy protection are generally insufficient in China and efforts should be made before serious biometric data leakage incidents occur.

Chen said that the sovereignty of unique data such as facial information belongs to the State, and enterprises can use it. However, the current situation is that whoever collects it monopolizes it.

Shen Weixing, dean of Tsinghua University's School of Law, believes that the unclear ownership of data has become a major institutional obstacle to the industry and called for corresponding equity incentives for enterprises according to various types of risks while ensuring data security so as to address the problems of data security.

AI helps liberate manpower

During the survey trips, members of the Committee on Social and Legal Affairs watched the application of AI in many scenarios, such as transportation, manufacturing, home life, and medical treatment.

Lyu Zhongmei, resident vice-chairwoman of the Committee on Social and Legal Affairs raised a question: What is the development trend of AI in China? It was also a concern of many members in the research team after field surveys in AI firms in Suzhou and Wuxi cities in Jiangsu.

They all agreed that in an era of underdeveloped AI machines and technologies can complete designated tasks but do not have a sense of autonomy, they just help improve human capabilities.

CPPCC National Committee member Qian Feng said he believes that how to deeply integrate AI with the manufacturing sector and use it to stabilize supply and industrial chains is a more urgent issue than the application of AI in medium- and high-end consumption. In the view of the survey team, the development of AI should follow the human-centered principle, as serving the mankind is the ultimate goal of technological development.

Clarification of liability in intelligent driving accidents

The survey team visited a group of automobile manufacturers and saw various scenarios of intelligent driving.

When people rely more and more on AI to assist decision-making, machines may also make decisions on their own without people noticing they have done so.

Members of the committee think that the obscurity of liability in the accidents that were caused by machine decisions has become a legal challenge.

In the view of some survey team members, in various AI application scenarios designers, producers, distributors and users of the technology can all be liable. The complexity and uncertainty of AI systems and their application scenarios make it difficult to decide who is liable when an accident occurs.

They are also worried about the privacy leakage brought by intelligent driving technology, and suggested moral self-discipline of enterprises and industries and legislations on the abuse and leakage of data.

"It is good for enterprises to establish ethics committees. Self-discipline and self-governance of enterprises and industries are also very important," said Zhang Dafang, a member of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC National Committee.

Zhao Zhiyun, director of a research center on new generation artificial intelligence development of the Ministry of Science and Technology, said that the task of legislation is to establish a basic and broad criteria.

What is badly lacking is the self-discipline of the industry, Zhao noted, adding that since enterprises are staking out their turf, the government should encourage those who have done well and urge those who have not done enough to improve their practice, and draw a boundary for the development of AI and set standards and norms for enterprises.

According to Shen, although the development of AI technology has brought a great impact to the law, legal research still lags behind, ignoring the fact that data has become a factor of production. There is a need for further studies.

Lyu said that at present some institutional norms in the fields of data security and personal privacy protection should be made, as should efforts to handle the relationship between AI development and privacy protection.

She also advised improving employees' ethics and morality and carrying out fundamental reform of the educational system.

Another CPPCC National Committee member, Wei Qingsong, pointed out that it is necessary to be cautious in making comprehensive legislation on AI development, and to fully consider the boundary between public and private rights. It's not advisable to enact rigid laws too early to stifle innovation.

Chen stressed the basic premise that we are still in a weak AI era and must follow the development trend of new generation AI while taking the actual situation of China into consideration so as to promote the industry's safety and high-quality growth.

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