Why A Culture-oriented Strategy Matters For India To Pioneer In AI Ethics Leadership

The profound implications of Artificial Intelligence on humanity, cultures, societies, and the environment is one of the central issues of this era. The complexity of AI and its ethical issues are not hidden. Because of its complexity, multiple stakeholders across various international, national and regional sectors must take a shared responsibility based on intercultural and global dialogue. A globally accepted normative instrument is required that focuses on articulating principles and values, along with practical realization, through compact policy recommendations and emphasizing inclusion issues of protection of the environment and gender equality, for example. 

Numerous organizations around the world are trying to propose solutions to the challenges brought about by AI. the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is one such organization that has taken positive steps to help in this pool of problems based on its multidisciplinary expertise and universal membership. It has brought developed and developing countries together to provide a pluralistic platform for dialogue on AI ethics. Considering India’s approach to AI Ethics, it has attempted to centralize its presence in the matter related to algorithm-centric leadership. While the NITI Aayog and MEITY, Government of India have endorsed and supported research, entrepreneurial and educative activities, there is still a relative lack in achieving a culture-oriented strategy for disruptive technologies like AI. However, this trend is common among Global South countries that they usually adopt the aesthetic and pragmatic components of AI Ethics from the US/Canada or European countries, since most countries do not agree with the Russian and Chinese approaches to AI Ethics.

This article is an attempt to reflect upon the need to develop a culture-oriented strategy in the Indian case to pioneer in AI Ethics leadership in line with India’s position on Preliminary Report on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence presented in UNESCO.

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The UNESCO Meeting

The UNESCO recognizes that the member-states would be at different stages of readiness to implement this Recommendation in terms of technological, scientific, economic, legal, educational, regulatory, societal, cultural, infrastructural, and other dimensions. Therefore, for effective implementation of this Recommendation, UNESCO would develop a methodology that would help its member-states to assist their readiness and support to establish a globally-accepted method to best practices, Ethical Impact Assessment (EIA) of AI-technologies, assessment guidelines, and mechanism. 

To further the idea, UNESCO identified that a Recommendation would be the best-suited international standard-setting instrument in this area. Therefore, after the 40th session of the UNESCO’s General Conference, in November 2019, the Intergovernmental special committee meeting of technical and legal experts was tasked to examine and draft the Recommendations on Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. These recommendations were prepared in two phases, and the final draft would be adopted by a Special Committee on the 41st session of the General Conference of UNESCO. Per Article 10, paragraph 3, of the Rules of Procedure, the final report containing a draft text of the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence has been prepared. The aim of the member-states was to provide ethical bias for AI systems that would protect and promote individuals, humanity, society, environment, and ecosystem and prevent any harm caused by it. 

A multi-stakeholder consultation process involving online public consultations, open, multi-stakeholder, and citizen deliberation workshops, along with regional and sub-regional virtual consultations, were also organized. These consultations generated over fifty thousand comments and involved more than fifteen hundred participants internationally. By the end of December 2020, the Ad-Hoc Expert Group sent the first draft of the Recommendation to the member-states for observations and written comments. The Recommendations are also expected to provide a firm basis for the UN system in its joint response to the ethical encounters modeled by AI-technologies in numerous fields, with UNESCO playing a principal role in this area. The aim is that until the end of 2021, the focus must be on the inter-governmental process and negotiation on the draft text for possible adoption by the next session of the General Conference.

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India’s Position on the Ethics of AI

Indian National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO (INCCU) commented on the Preliminary Report on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. INCCU, in its comment, recommended and emphasizes the inclusion of the weaker section of society because after the significant transformation of India in core sectors and its shift towards digital society would require access to devices to these more vulnerable sections as such advancements may also lead to worsening of existing digital divides. They recommended ten principles, four values, and ten policy intervention areas in their comment. It included the following – 

  1. To recognize that through the right to development, all fundamental freedoms and human rights can be realized fully and the full enjoyment of AI technologies for all.
  2. Enhancement of scope from a domain perspective, not limiting it to mandated domains as prescribed by UNESCO and technological perspective, extends the range from merely AI-human interaction and covers emerging technology like IoT, ML, Deep Learning, etc. 
  3. To include AI Readiness, EIA of AI-based techs, Assessment of AI for all stakeholders, and effectiveness and efficiency of policies for AI Ethics in Checklist Matrix. 
  4. Three suggestions in Policy areas 3, 4, and 5 – for Ethical Governance, a checklist on explainability and transparency requirements must be implemented internationally. For Development and International Cooperation, access to the dataset is suggested to maintain commensurate value realization and dataset provider. Finally, a checklist matrix that is globally accepted for ecosystem and environment must be worked out for ecosystem and environment. 
  5. In addition to accountability, transparency, responsibility, efficiency, effectiveness, algorithms, datasets, affordable AI solutions, and devices must also be considered part of the principles because there is a potential risk of creating digital and AI have-nots. 
  6. Equitable access to hardware for design and development of AI solution and AI-enabled device for weaker section of the society. 
  7. Access to AI solutions in local languages to bridge the language divide in countries like India, with more than twenty constitutionally recognized languages. 
  8. A global treaty that would ensure to avoid any harmful use of emerging technology in subversion activities using AI by member-states as well as non-state actors across the transnational borders. 
  9. AI and Data Sovereignty, in a manner that strengthens State’s sovereignty, at the same time it does not affect the State in making the choices of governance, legislation, and development models in the AI environment.

With this idea, INCCU has suggested various changes in the first draft of Recommendations on AI Ethics. 

Also read: AIMResearch Releases Report On Responsible AI Adoption In Indian Enterprises

India’s Thought Leadership Approach on AI

Now, considering the important comments of policy intervention by India, it is quite clear to understand that India has a firm and basic position on imparting and contributing better in the global commons. Focusing directly on ensuring the FEAR, i.e., Fairness, Effectiveness, Accountability and Responsibility and even the policy demands of transparency is a smart and commendable step in any way possible. The approach glances at the very heart of international AI governance. It is important for India to focus on AI-centric data sovereignty, which it has rightfully affirmed. However, the same has to be translated and then transliterated through cultural, economic and legal dynamics. All of the three dynamic features in India’s case, need to be aligned with some unique Indian characteristics. That unfortunately, is not present in any approaches derived by the NITI Aayog or even any prominent research organization in India, which is committed to India’s AI approach. One of the most common responses to the same is the problem that India derives or inspires in a fiduciary manner from the West (especially the EU) when it comes to such models. Recently, to foster connectivity and engagement, India and the EU had conducted a summit in which quite reasonable negotiations were held under the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, considering the special flaws in the recent legislative proposal of European Union on AI and Law, and the fact that even India’s Personal Data Protection Bill is still pending in a bipartisan Joint Parliamentary Committee, wherein the same bill is in many ways inspired from the General Data Protection Regulation, there is a huge lack of differentiated approach to data and algorithmic governance for India. 

This anyhow derives from India’s economic, cultural and legal understanding. In essential terms, even the economic and legal structure of India is based on its government and its private actors’ culture-oriented strategy because the very fact that legal and economic models are inspired with some cultural-aesthetic understanding does not at all undermine the potential of the inspirations that led to the same. Generally, China, the United States, European Union and Russia have commonly created their own culturally manifested approaches to law and economics – even in the frontier of technology that drives the supply chains, technology transfer and the stability of the legal system towards disruptive economics and innovations. In the case of India, it is certainly a different demand that India Inc. has to increase its economic influence beyond the MNCs who have invested in ML, Analytics and other AI technologies. Still, without any coordinated culture-oriented strategy, by not the Union Government, but at least any statutory body or the NITI Aayog, in reflection even, India could lack to achieve reasonable solutions and guide the international community.

How Culture-oriented Strategy Contributes to AI Ethics: the Indian Way

A Culture-oriented strategy is a reflection cum democratization of the cultural value systems which can be put into use into any civilizational state’s technological, economic and other advancements. In the Indian case, there is already available primary and secondary literature in relation with Indian and Indo-European culture cum sciences, which clearly reflects how uniquely cultural value systems can be utilized. For example, the epistemic understanding of any cultural institution and its contributions to various arts and sciences very well represent the cognitive and operative capabilities. This can be well-found from the philosophical works of Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda to historical works, such as the Vedas and Shrimadbhagavad Gita. Now, no cultural or philosophical contribution in any way or form reflects a codified or direct culture-oriented strategy. However, if we look at certain ecological and technology innovations, much of their inspiration derives from indigenous and ancient cultures. We can also see that by understanding the General Data Protection Regulation of the European Union. The GDPR’s linguistics and strictest of approaches towards data protection shows Europe’s linear approaches to data governance and protection. It also reflects the reality that Europe emphasizes on the potential of affirmative linguistic diversity. Even the AI legislation is a reflection of the European Union’s technocratization of AI Governance, since the EU is a regulatory superpower. The same examples derive from China, wherein their own Beijing Approach to AI is a clear reflection of three ideas – Maoist communism (and socialism), legalism and confucianism. Here are some suggestions on how culture-oriented strategies can help India advance on AI and data sovereignty and provide much better avenues in international AI governance for the international community:

  • India has been focusing on decolonization even in its contributions to the UN and has condemned digital colonialism from the big tech companies in the United States through adopting the Social Media Guidelines of 2021 under the Information Technology Act, 2000. Decoloniality essentially means removing threads of colonial influence, from mental to physical realities. If on that aspect, India tries to find links between traditional approaches to ethics, transparency and responsibility hierarchies, be it horizontal/vertical, then much alternative means can be created to endorse information sovereignty (and even establish it).
  • Soft law (and its bi-product, self-regulation) is an emerging part of international governance these days. Indian companies and civil society actors must, in the interest of Indian law, focus on developing grundnorm approaches of technology law and disruptive economics, which counters the overwhelming effects of the supply chains monopolized by the United States and China. Again, this requires a cultural approach to economic development. Linking the omnipresent role of AI, this also becomes tenably important.
  • Skill security and skill-based education is essential for India’s knowledge economy to grow. That cannot be deprived of any understanding of culture, languages and their intersectional relationships. Cultural prosperity in general empowers indigenous, rural, semi-Urban and even urban micro-economic frontiers, especially their main components, the MSMEs, who come up with innovative products and services.
  • A cultural approach to education has also been endorsed in the National Education Policy 2020 by the Union Government. Even Europe ensures that more publications in any field, including AI are also available in regional languages. Sadly, there are negligible to zero regional languages or even Hindi-written research contributions on AI Ethics. Hence, even in research cum academic education, cultural approaches are cognitively, epistemically very important.

Considering the relevance of India with respect to the Indo-Pacific decade of 2020-2029, and India’s commitment to critical technologies even in the Quad in line with its statements to UNESCO, culture-oriented strategies would advance the cause of India’s technology leadership both in home and abroad.

Abhivardhan is the Chairperson and Managing Trustee of the Indian Society of Artificial Intelligence & Law and the President of Global Law Assembly.

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