On December 10, 2020, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament adopted guidelines on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for military purposes and in the health and justice sectors (“Guidelines”). The text of the Guidelines has not yet been published.
Since the first AI systems appeared, Members of the European Parliament (“MEPs”) have consistently emphasized that it is of pivotal importance for the European legal framework to provide related definitions and ethical principles to be followed to the letter. These rules need to ensure that human dignity and human rights are respected and that AI systems are subject to meaningful human oversight so that humans will have the opportunity to correct or disable them in case of unforeseen behavior. Humans should, therefore, be identifiable within the process and ultimately be held responsible.
With regard to military use of AI and human oversight, in the Guidelines MEPs agreed that lethal autonomous weapon systems should only be used as a last resort and should be deemed lawful only if subject to human oversight, since it must be humans who make life-or-death decisions. Ultimately, the Guidelines call on the European Union to take a leading role in promoting a global framework for the military use of AI, alongside the United Nations and the international community. MEPs also point out the threats to fundamental human rights arising from the use of AI technologies in mass surveillance, in both the civil and military domains.
In relation to AI in the fields of health care and justice, MEPs took the view that the increased use of AI systems in such public services should not replace human contact or lead to discrimination. When AI is used in matters of public health (among others, robot-assisted surgery, smart prostheses, and predictive medicine), patients’ personal data shall be protected and the principle of equal treatment upheld.
It is evident that judges resort to AI technologies more and more in decision-making and to speed up proceedings. However, safeguards to protect the interests of citizens are equally necessary. People should always be informed that they are subject to a decision based on AI and should have the right to see a public official. AI cannot replace humans in issuing sentences. In this regard, final court decisions must be made by humans, be strictly verified by people, and be subject to due process.
It is worth noting that the European Parliament has already adopted a wide range of resolutions in the field of AI and most recently approved three reports on artificial intelligence in the areas of ethics, civil liability, and intellectual property. In anticipation of the commission’s legislative proposal on AI, expected in early 2021, the parliament also set up a new Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in a Digital Age.