Melbourne Uni's new AI and digital ethics centre already concerned about COVID-19 responses

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Melbourne Uni's new AI and digital ethics centre already concerned about COVID-19 responses

As nations prioritise tracking over privacy.

The University of Melbourne has launched a new Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Ethics (CAIDE) to tackle the ethical, policy and legal challenges posed by new technologies.

The centre is a joint exercise between the university’s law, engineering, arts and science streams to provide an Australian focus to emerging technological issues with tangible outcomes.

“It is not enough to talk about fairness and accountability in the abstract,” CAIDE co-director Professor Jeannie Paterson, from the Melbourne Law School, said.

“We have a choice about the kinds of values we as a society hold to be important and worth protecting in the advance of technology.

“Social and economic policy, law reform and regulatory responses can only proceed in the light of clarity around those values and their application across Australian communities.

Paterson singled out the evolving response to the coronavirus outbreak as a key example of a scenario that requires delicate examination.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve already seen the extensive use of digital technologies to implement a variety of social control measures. “

“The public health benefits of these measures are obvious, but so too are the threats to individual privacy and autonomy.”

The European privacy watchdog has already called member states to work together on a digital solution to track the progression of the disease, rather than follow through with the ‘hodge podge’ solutions currently being put forward by a raft of different nations that may fail to properly adhere to privacy laws.

New Zealanders have also been asked to consent to police tracking of their mobile phones for location information.

Meanwhile, Western Australia has rushed through new rules allowing it to track people ordered to self isolate by installing surveillance devices in their homes or requiring them to carry wearable trackers.

Aside from analysis and research on emerging issues, CAIDE will also be involved in teaching the significance of including ethics in the design of new technologies.

Associate Professor Tim Miller, from the Melbourne School of Engineering and CAIDE co-director, said it will facilitate much-needed dialogue between government and technology industries on a range of complex issues.

“The use of AI for complex decision making in the technology, business and medical sectors is increasing exponentially and our social understanding of it should keep pace,” Miller said.

“The present pandemic has increased public dependence on devices and the internet. During these times it is increasingly important for researchers to identify gaps in the technical and legal framework of our online existence.”

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