Alex Read, WFD Associate
The promises of AI are vast. Harnessed effectively, it can transform sectors and contribute to global productivity and prosperity. However, progress is accelerating at a speed far outstripping democratic processes and controls. With this comes risks to society and democracy and potentially loss of human control over AI. In democracies, we are not yet set up to address these safety concerns.
The UK Safety Summit can be an important landmark in progressing towards global AI safety. While emphasising global cooperation on frontier AI safety, it is crucial to recognize the dangers and risks posed by existing AI technologies, especially when they challenge democratic systems. The Summit can help initiate a conversation across democracies on measures to address such risks. A proposed AI Safety Institute, or an expert monitoring group akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, can then provide essential support to democracies with impartial, reliable and timely assessments about AI progress and research on the impact of AI on society and democracy.
Institutional components of democracy will be key to mitigating harms and risks from AI. We need a revitalised global effort to support the development of robust, people-centred, trusted democratic institutions which can address the changes to democratic societies that AI will bring. This is long-term and essential work.
Short term (in the next year)
Support MP Professional Development on AI
- Organize workshops and seminars for MPs with AI experts, ethicists, industry leaders and civil society to provide basic understanding on AI, where the frontier is and where the most significant risks lie.
- Provide research and information on emerging regulatory initiatives on AI and measures to address deep fakes, AI-driven misinformation, and biased AI systems.
Strengthen structures in parliament to oversee AI impact
- Support the creation of bodies of parliament such as cross-party groups on AI.
- Incorporate AI oversight into the workplans of sectoral parliamentary committees.
Consult the public on AI
- Initiate public consultations – in person and/or using social media – to gather diverse perspectives on AI.
- Support MPs in their representation role to identify and consult marginalised groups that might be most impacted by AI.
Upskill parliamentary staff
- Provide opportunities for parliamentary staff to engage with and learn from sources of expertise in AI from industry, academia, civil society.
Support MPs to attend international meetings on AI
- Identify opportunities for MPs to engage in international conferences and meetings on AI, such as parliamentary groups around OECD and UNESCO initiatives.
- Support seminars or workshops where MPs and staff share best practices and pass on lessons learnt on issues including AI regulation to their colleagues.
Medium term (1-5 years)
Establish oversight structures focused on AI
- Consider specialised committees/sub-committees dedicated to AI, ensuring continuous oversight and adaptation to technological changes.
- Mandate committees to regularly review and report to parliament on AI-related policies and legislation to ensure they remain relevant and adapt to AI developments and risks.
Develop in-house technical expertise
- Identify and hire parliamentary staff with expertise in AI, or source expertise through national and international partnerships, twinning arrangements and regional bodies.
- Establish dedicated units within parliaments that focus on AI governance and oversight and provide ongoing support to MPs and committees.
Launch public awareness campaigns
- Develop and deliver parliamentary education and outreach programmes that educate citizens about AI, its benefits, and potential risks.
Trial innovations to improve public engagement
- Consider new means of public input and engagement on AI through parliament, studying innovations such as citizens’ assemblies.
Use AI to improve the work of parliament
- Demonstrate democratic innovation through studying and introducing AI tools to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of parliament.
- Examples include using AI for example legislative drafting, providing better access to parliamentary information, and enabling new means for the public to engage with parliament and their representatives.
The role of democracy support
International democratic governance support can play a key role in catalysing a democratic approach to AI governance and safety by developing capacities, building partnerships, supporting joint action, and sharing good practices and innovations. The international development community can:
- Support capacity development for MPs and parliamentary staff on technical aspects of AI and its implications.This can better inform national policy and legislative responses and enable stronger participation in global governance discussions.
- Share updated research and evidence on AI’s impact through an ‘observatory’ approach. This can help raise awareness of AI’s impact across jurisdictions and highlight illiberal and repressive uses of AI.
- Build platforms to convene elected representatives to support South-South exchange and tap into networks of expertise including technology companies, civil society and grassroots organisations. This can include networking across parliamentary committees tasked with overseeing AI.
- Support public education and AI literacy including in local languages and for diverse and marginalised groups. This includes digital literacy around repressive use of AI.
- Help parliaments introduce democratic innovations harnessing AI. Help identify and share examples of AI-driven tools and platforms that can enhance public participation and improve transparency and accountability of the work of parliament. The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Centre for Innovation in Parliament provides an example.
- Provide resources to global media and civil society. Accountability requires a strong and technically informed civil society to advocate for the public and independent media to shine a light on AI risks and illiberal and undemocratic trends. This includes funding for civil society working on AI accountability and digital rights in non-democratic countries.