GUELPH — Artificial intelligence has the potential to address some of the most pressing issues of our time, but it also poses risks that need to be taken seriously and addressed quickly, believe a collective of researchers that includes a University of Guelph professor.
“We (Canada) punch above our weight in terms of AI research, so we really should be seen as a leader on AI policy and legislation and regulation,” says Graham Taylor, professor of engineering and AI chair of the CIFAR (formerly known as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research). “The technology really has the potential to do good things but also has the potential to do bad things.”
Taylor is one of more than 75 AI researchers and business representatives from throughout the country to sign an open letter calling on federal politicians to “strongly support” the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) and bring regulation to this quickly evolving technology.
The AIDA is part of Bill C-27, which was introduced last June and tabled in the House of Commons in November.
If ultimately approved by MPs, it would establish new measures to regulate trade and commerce in AI systems, while setting out requirements for design, development and use.
“It would also prohibit specific practices with data and artificial intelligence systems that may result in serious harm to individuals or their interests,” explains an overview posted on the government of Canada’s website.
“In addition to establishing that high-impact AI systems must meet obligations including with respect to safety, transparency, and human rights, AIDA would sanction conduct that causes serious harm to individuals or their interests,” the open letter from Taylor and others states. “It provides the scaffolding for regulations to be developed in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, defining specific concepts and requirements that will become the guardrails to developing and deploying AI.”
Efforts to reach MP Lloyd Longfield for comment weren’t immediately successful.
Passage of the AIDA “seems to be stalled,” Taylor said.
“There’s a bit of a concern that if it doesn’t move forward this summer, while parliament isn’t in session, then we just lose the opportunity to respond to it at this stage in technological development,” he said. “Every day there’s no models with new capabilities being developed.”
Taylor and the other letter signees acknowledge AI has “great potential for economic growth and societal opportunities,” including addressing health and environmental issues.
“We’re already seeing AI being used in the development of new medicines and new materials. We’ve also seen it improve our effectiveness in accomplishing day to day work tasks,” said Taylor, pointing to summarization as an example of the latter.
“There’s certainly many opportunities for the systems to cause harm,” he added, mentioning the promotion of discrimination, bias and misinformation, along with negatively impacting mental health and disrupt labour markets.
“I think the legislation there to, not slow down the research but it looks at what’s getting deployed as products and services and hold people to account if there is a misuse of the technology.”
The professor urges people to learn about AI techology and the AIDA, and to share any concerns they may have with federal representatives such as Longfield.