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What Is AI?

After Bitcoin and Blockchains, Artificial Intelligence is the new topic everyone is talking about. One way of defining AI refers to the ability of computer systems - including systems linked to hardware devices - to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence (Oxford Languages). This includes the ability of taking decisions in unforeseen cases that have not been specifically programmed into the software. To do so, the machines look at massive amounts of data and then determine, on the basis of that data, which of several strategies is most likely to yield an outcome that is most aligned with certain pre-programmed goals. For example, a self-driving car can be programmed to observe all traffic rules and to prioritize safety over speed to get from point A to point B. It will then take decisions accordingly, when navigating through unforeseen traffic and weather conditions. In another example, an AI can evaluate hundreds of thousands of patient records to recommend the treatment strategy most likely to help a patient with a unique combination of biomarkers and health challenges.

     As a science, the field has been around since the 1950s (Turing, McCarthy). However, the ability of crunching massive amounts of data in real time and at affordable cost only became widely available in the last decade. This has triggered a new dawn for AI and massive investments into the development of a wide range of applications. Indeed, the International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that "global spending on ... AI, including software, hardware, and services" will increase from about US$120 billion in 2022 to some US$300 billion by 2026.

     Unsurprisingly, entrusting machines with decisions that could include life-or-death choices for humans, is controversial and should not be left entirely to profit-seeking private enterprises without suitable public oversight. However, the question how best to regulate AI in an effort of stimulating research and innovation while also containing risks and preventing abuse, let alone the proverbial take-over by the machines Terminator-style, is an open question and will remain hotly contested for the foreseeable future.

     The CICL is sharing resources for fact-based discussions between scientists, policy-makers, lawyers, and media professionals, and providing a platform for research and publications on the subject. One of the goals for Q1 of 2024 is the development of a model curriculum for graduate programs in law and public policy. 

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