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M. Àngels Barbarà: “In the new society, we are passing from the individual to the digital subject, and the digital representation of the person is the one that counts, whether it responds to reality or not”

17/06/2019 15:36
M. A. Barbarà Jornada- ètica en la intel·ligència artificial - 17 de juny de 2019

M. Àngels Barbarà

Ethics in artificial intelligence (AI) was the focus of the symposium organised by the Catalan Data Protection Authority (APDCAT) at Palau Robert in Barcelona.

The Authority’s Director, Maria Àngels Barbarà, opened the event with an address that underlined how technological innovation could be a tool to improve people’s quality of life. In this respect, she announced that a study will be conducted into the state of AI in Catalonia from an ethical perspective, and a series of privacy and data protection recommendations will be drawn up with a view to guaranteeing ethics in the development of artificial intelligence.

Enhance people’s critical thinking by explaining how algorithms work

Maria Àngels Barbarà revealed that this study will be based on interviews with experts and heads of companies and organisations that employ or intend to employ algorithms in automated decision-making. The aim is to inform on the potential of artificial intelligence and the ethical frameworks that must be respected in its development, as well as to provide citizens with the information they need to exercise their rights against automated decisions made using these technologies.

The APDCAT Director warned against leaving the design of technology in the hands of big business and multinational corporations without it being the subject of critical appraisal, because the people who write the algorithms have their own particular values and vision of the world.

In this new society, we are passing from the individual to the digital subject, and the digital representation of the person is “the one that counts”, whether it responds to reality or not. It is this digital representation that is taken as the basis for the personalisation of goods and services in order to influence the choices people make. For this reason, Maria Àngels Barbarà called for possible deviations, discrimination and exclusions in technologies to be addressed to prevent them being perpetuated, or new but different versions being created.

Safe, trustworthy AI should be designed which incorporates transparency, security, responsibility and the capability to be explained and audited. Technology is being invented that will provide a deeper understanding of people’s impulses, with the intention of influencing directly, invisibly and in real time the way they take decisions. This is facilitating interference in the individual’s personal or private life, in social aspects and even in the area of democratic participation.

The Authority’s Director emphasised that technological design is needed that does not restrict the freedom to make decisions and in which individuals’ behaviours are not monitored and directed by those who hold power over the technology. The solution, she insisted, is for society to understand how algorithms work and to approach them critically.


Ethical and social perspective in governing technological innovation


Ms Barbarà reiterated that from this point of view the impact of intensive use of data and the vulnerability of its processing affect the rights and freedoms of natural persons. The ethical and social perspective must govern technological innovation if we are to protect the values, principles and rights inherent in our society.

Technology improves our quality of life, but this cannot be in exchange for limiting our rights through manipulation and distortion of our perception of reality (filter bubble) or monitoring our emotions. We must work to ensure that its added value serves the interests, not only of those with power over the data and the technologies, but also of society and people in general.

The symposium also featured a round-table discussion with different experts. Taking part on the panel were Alessandro Mantelero, Council of Europe Rapporteur on Artificial Intelligence and Data Protection; Carme Torras, a PhD in Computer Science and research professor at the Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial (Institute of Robotics and Industrial Computing – CSIC-UPC); Itziar de Lecuona, a tenure-track lecturer at the Department of Medicine and deputy director of the Bioethics and Law Observatory at the University of Barcelona; and Jordi Soria, APDCAT coordinator of Technology and Information Security.

The discussion was moderated by Karma Peiró, a journalist specialised in information and communication technologies, and collaborator on the report on automated decision-making algorithms drawn up by the NGO Algorithm Watch.