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New blog series on AI and manipulation

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08 April 2022
AI en manipulatie AI Ethics

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Targeted advertisements, personalized news feeds or smart home devices: artificial intelligence (AI) creates new ways to influence people’s behaviour. The European Commission has proposed a ban on certain (harmful) instances of AI manipulation. In a new blog series, the Rathenau Instituut talks to experts about the phenomenon of manipulative AI and the desirability of this emerging technology.

Manipulative AI

AI is a technology that can be used to influences people’s behaviour. Think of the influence of targeted advertisement on consumer behaviour, or the effect of personalized news feeds on someone’s views and interests. AI’s influence can be manipulative. There is a shared sense that manipulative AI is undesirable. The European Commission even proposed a complete ban on certain (harmful) instances of manipulative AI.

But what is manipulation? And why is it a problem if technology manipulates us? In our new blog series ‘AI and manipulation’ we dive into the phenomenon of manipulative AI. There are three central questions in this series, which we answer by means of interviews with a variety of experts.

Manipulation as a moral problem

First of all, we ask what it is that makes manipulation a moral problem. Many directly associate the term ‘manipulation’ with something negative. After all, no one likes to be fooled. But couldn’t manipulative AI serve positive ends as well? For example by stimulating people to eat healthier or exercise more. Is this also undesirable? We discuss these questions with two ethicists.

Ways to manipulate

Secondly, we would like to know in what ways AI can be used to manipulate us. The term AI refers to a wide variety of technologies that are present throughout society. To find out how AI manipulates us, we look at specific contexts in which manipulation through AI occurs. We dedicate a blog to the use of AI by businesses to influence consumer behaviour –  through targeted advertisement, for example. Another blog will deal with the ways in which digital media can manipulate citizens’ behaviour and opinions. An infamous example of this is the role of Cambridge Analytics in the US elections of 2016. We also devote a blog to the use of AI by governments to steer the behaviour of citizens. Manipulation by the government could take place online, but also in physical public spaces by means of smart cameras, for example.

Regulating manipulative AI

Thirdly and finally, we ask: how should manipulative AI be regulated? To answer this question, we discuss the EU’s AI Act, in which a complete prohibition of certain harmful forms of AI manipulation is proposed. 

The answers to these questions shed light on the phenomenon of manipulative AI. This will allow us to engage in a dialogue about the desirability of this emerging technology.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 813497.

De vlag van de Europese Unie