The Rise of Artificial Intelligence in NZ Elections: Ignored Threats and Wider Implications
As the 2023 election campaign in New Zealand enters its final days, there is a topic that politicians seem to be ignoring: the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications for the country’s economy, politics, and society. Despite concerns raised by AI experts about the consequences of these digital tools, there has been little discussion on the subject from those seeking election this year. This relative silence should raise concerns for all New Zealanders.
A recent survey by Ipsos, a global market research firm, found that 63% of New Zealanders are nervous about AI, although only 35% understand where it is being used. As a society, we rely on the government to lead on important issues like this, but there has been little attention given to AI in the political discourse.
During a recent election debate, the leaders of the major political parties were asked about the threat of AI to humanity. The leaders had varying responses, with Labour’s Chris Hipkins acknowledging its potential threat and National’s Christopher Luxon highlighting both the positive and negative aspects. The leaders were also asked about a potential tax on AI to support workers who may lose their jobs to this technology. Their responses indicated a lack of understanding and urgency regarding the implications of AI on employment.
However, the impact of AI extends beyond job loss. Over the past decades, social media has contributed to the rise of misinformation, disinformation, and political polarization. The development of more human-like AI bots will only exacerbate these threats, making them more pervasive and harder to combat. Furthermore, the use of AI in various sectors such as health, government, and employment has the potential to reinforce existing biases and prejudices, leading to inequitable outcomes. In the case of Aotearoa, AI models trained on Westernized data are unaware of Māori tikanga (customs) and data sovereignty, and defaulting to English is risking minority languages.
While New Zealand has embraced the use of AI in the public service, local lawmakers have fallen behind the rest of the world in terms of regulating this technology. The European Union, for instance, is expected to pass the AI Act into law by the end of 2023, which will classify AI tools according to different risk levels and impose legislative requirements for their deployment and monitoring. Canada has also introduced a voluntary code of conduct for the development of safe and responsible generative AI systems, while individual states in the US have passed laws addressing the perceived threats of AI. Even the federal level has seen hearings on the regulation of AI.
In New Zealand, progress on policy development regarding AI has been limited. While the major political parties mention AI in their election manifestos, the details regarding regulation and safety measures are lacking. There is a need for stronger data privacy laws that recognize data as a treasure and require informed consent for its use in AI training and processing. In addition, there should be regulation on what can and cannot be automated with AI, and how the profits from AI applications using local data can be kept within the country.
Without active government regulation, New Zealanders and their political system could be vulnerable to manipulation by malign foreign interests. It is crucial for the country to invest in its workforce to adapt to the changes brought about by AI and embrace Māori-driven AI research that prioritizes the well-being of the people. By doing so, New Zealand can become a creator of technologies that benefit everyone.
In conclusion, as New Zealand approaches its 2023 elections, it is imperative that politicians address the rise of AI and its wide-ranging implications for the country. There is a need for proactive government regulation, stronger data privacy laws, and investment in the workforce to ensure that AI is harnessed for the benefit of all New Zealanders. Failure to address these issues could leave the country vulnerable to the negative consequences of AI.