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Artificial intelligence, big data and democracy


Big data and AI are shaping our societies at an unprecedented rate. We produce an ever-increasing amount of data revealing people’s attitudes, preferences, views and opinions. Public and private actors collect it and use it in multiple ways: e.g. companies “privatise” data to augment commercial returns while, on the other hand, state actors can use it for safety and security applications and the public sector to provide better, tailored services to citizens.

AI and big data open great opportunities in many fields of public interest: education, training, health, safety and security, public services, as well as for democratic processes and civic participation. However, both private and public uses contain some risks at the expense of citizens’ rights. These technologies, being at the forefront of datafication processes, pose new challenges both to core individual values such as privacy, freedom and equality, as well as to European collective values, such as fairness, security, inclusiveness, accountability and democratic control.

Proposals should analyse challenges and opportunities for society brought about by AI and big data. They should explore how to protect citizens from potential abuse enabled by these technologies both in the private and public domains. New and established regulations to control platforms using these technologies (beyond GDPR) should be examined. Strategies and policy recommendations on how to ensure that philosophical, legal and ethical values are embedded in the development of these technologies as outlined in the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence – a European approach to excellence and trust[[]], are sought.

Examination should lead to solutions protecting from the possible negative impacts of these technologies on fundamental rights and democracy. Equally, it should lead to strategies that leverage them for enhancing civic participation and democracy.

Issues at stake include, inter alia: data ownership and/or inalienability; regulation of data flows; neutrality and explainability of algorithms and machine learning; value-centric, decentralised and/or open source designs for data processing platforms; counter-powers to dominant platforms; sensitive applications such as face recognition; etc.

Proposals are expected to address some of the following points: To build evidence, to review and to analyse threats to and opportunities for democracy, personal and collective European values stemming from AI and big data. This should involve a specific focus on gender issues and vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities and people at risk of discrimination. They should propose ethical standards enforced through regulatory and governance frameworks. Supported with operational guidance, they should help protect citizens, uphold European values and ensure public trust in AI and the processing of big data. Innovative, inclusive and participative uses of AI and big data for civic engagement and democracy, including through experimental approaches, should be explored. Research is expected to design ways to educate European citizens about these technologies to enable informed civic participation in shaping them. Projects should build on existing results, findings and good practices, for instance those focused on Responsible Research and Innovation, and relevant projects supported under Horizon 2020’s Science with and for Society programme.