Otago Uni gets $400k to study AI law and policy impacts

The University of Otago has launched a three-year multi-disciplinary study into the implications of artificial intelligence for law and public policy in New Zealand, supported by a $400,000 grant from the Law Foundation’s Information Law and Policy project (ILAPP).

The study will be led by Dr Colin Gavaghan, associate law professor and director of the New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Emerging Technologies at the University of Otago. His collaborators will be associate professor Ali Knott in the Department of Computer Science and associate professor James Maclaurin in the Department of Philosophy.

Assisted by two post-doctoral researchers they will examine international literature on AI, consult with international experts and study the experience of other countries, the United States in particular.

Gavaghan said AI technologies that can learn and adapt for themselves pose fascinating legal, practical and ethical challenges. “AI technologies have a veneer of objectivity, because people think machines can’t be biased, but their parameters are set by humans. This could result in biases being overlooked or even reinforced,” he said.

As an example he a gave PredPol, the technology now widely used by Police in American cities to predict where and when crime is most likely to occur, which has been accused of reinforcing bad practices such as racially-biased policing.

He added: “Also, because those parameters are often kept secret for commercial or other reasons, it can be hard to assess the basis for some AI-based decisions. This ‘inscrutability’ might make it harder to challenge those decisions, in the way we might challenge a decision made by a judge or a police officer.”

The Law Foundation’s executive director, Lynda Hagen, said the aim of ILAPP was to help New Zealand’s law and policy keep up with the pace of change in information technology.

The AI study is the fourth approved under ILAPP. The others are examining how to regulate digital or crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin that use block chain technology, smart contracts, the digitisation of law and how to regulate new technologies like driverless cars, drones, Uber and Airbnb.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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