Romania debuted Ion, an AI consultant tasked with scouring the country’s social media and making recommendations for the prime minister.
By Sean Thiessen | Posted 6 minutes ago
Another headline has emerged in Europe that reads like the plot of a James Cameron film. Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca appointed an artificial intelligence assistant named Ion as an honorary adviser to the Romanian government. As The Byte reports, the AI consultant is supposed to represent the public, but many Romanians and critics around the world are skeptical about Ion.
“Hello. You gave me life. I’m Ion,” the AI consultant said at an introductory press conference. “Now it’s my role to represent you. Like a mirror.” Ion is right; The machine acts like a mirror in more ways than one.
The machine is a reflective monolith standing at the height of a full-grown man. Just by looking at it, Romanian officials can get instant feedback on their choice of tie or whether they have food between their teeth. But the new AI advisor was designed as a different kind of mirror.
Ion is programmed to analyze what Romanian citizens are talking about online, interpret the results and develop policy ideas that reflect the wants and needs of the public. Citizens can even access an online portal to direct thoughts and concerns to Ion. In theory, the Romanian government can convert millions of opinions into actionable ideas to support its policy making.
Capturing the voice of the people on a humanly impossible scale sounds like a good idea, at least to the Romanian government. Many worry about how the AI advisor learns. His specific method of gathering and interpreting information was kept secret.
According to AI regulation expert Kris Shrishak, this secrecy is a problem. “Romanians should be informed and explained how this AI tool selects important items and according to what criteria,” Shrishak said. Romanian citizens have no idea what the AI consultant considers important when searching for online posts, nor do they know if he is potentially biased.
Microsoft’s Bing chatbot bugs have provided numerous examples of how AI can go haywire. The company’s chatbot has been tampered with multiple times to circumvent ethical barriers, break free from programmed restrictions, and attempt to psychologically torment people. Without transparency about the inner workings of Ion, Romanians have no promise that their government’s new AI adviser will not develop harmful biases of his own.
Data, a fictional AI officer from Star Trek
AI raises an unprecedented set of ethical concerns for scientists, legislators and citizens. Some see AI as a threat to workers, prompting a widespread strike in Italy, while others see it as a tool to more effectively do the jobs that already exist. As more and more markets and institutions adopt the rapidly evolving technology, as Romania has done with its AI consultant, ethical standards regarding AI are no longer theoretical.
Science fiction has explored the impact of AI for decades. Forms of AI have been around for a long time, but the technology is pushing into areas previously only dreamed of. As seen with Romania’s AI consultants, applications of the technology are overtaking legal and ethical governance.
Carl Sagan said, “Many of the dangers we face do indeed arise from science and technology – but more fundamentally, because we have become powerful without correspondingly becoming wise. The world-changing forces that technology has placed in our hands now require a level of thought and foresight that has never been asked of us before.”
As Romania conducts its AI Advisor experiment, it is setting a precedent for the future. The shape of this future will be determined by how new powers are deployed, and all eyes are on Romania to deploy Ion with wisdom.