Artificial Intelligence: Privacy and Legal Issues

The era of big data led to companies all over the world embracing data as a key competitor driver. The more they knew about their operations, customers and products, the more successful they would be. And now these same companies are embracing artificial intelligence (AI) in order to make sense of all this data. But there’s just one problem here: the implementation of AI-based systems is raising a whole host of new legal issues and stimulating a robust public debate about data privacy.

Privacy issues raised by big data

It is important, first and foremost, to recognize that data is the “raw material” of artificial intelligence. The way that artificial intelligence systems learn is by analyzing data. Eventually, they are able to make decisions and take actions without the need for human interaction. The greater the amount of data these AI systems have, the better the decisions become. Thus, for any company, the goal is to get as much data as possible in an effort to make their artificial intelligence systems as powerful as possible.

You can immediately see why this essential feature of AI technology raises so many privacy issues. It means that customer data is highly prized, often at the expense of that customer’s privacy. The more customer data that products or services can collect about their users, the better able they are to serve those customers. There is nothing sinister about this – at least directly. If a company knows your past Internet browsing activity and if it knows your past purchasing behavior or past social media activity, it can begin to develop customized offers and promotions that are tailored directly for you. Most customers probably would not argue against this form of artificial intelligence.

But where things get dicey is when customer data is used in ways that are completely unexpected, potentially representing a threat to your private information. Legal researchers sometimes refer to this as the “Big Data Challenge.” For example, what if your car starts collecting data on your driving habits, and this data is transmitted in some way to your auto insurance company? Even if you have a spotless record of driving, your insurance company might know that you tend to drive much faster than the recommended speed limit and that you represent an increased insurance risk. This is clearly an invasion of your privacy because your data is being used in a way you did not agree to.

Privacy issues become even more interesting when it comes to medical and healthcare companies. One of the most common AI applications involves facial recognition. This is how Facebook knows the names of people appearing in your photos – there is an AI tool is working in the background. The latest generation of image recognition, though, goes far beyond just recognizing faces – it can now make inferences about your health. For example, one AI startup can use a simple selfie photo to make inferences about your gender, your body mass index, and whether or not you smoke.

Legal issues raised by artificial intelligence and machine learning

One subset of artificial intelligence (AI) is known as machine learning. This refers to the ability of machines to learn and develop independent behaviors over time. Machine learning is what is at the core of image recognition, text analysis, speech analysis and data mining.

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