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Free course on AI and Ethics: ‘Every citizen should know more about this’

The free AI and Ethics course (in Dutch) is available online to anyone who wants to find out more about the ethical implications of artificial intelligence. One of the eight experts featured in the course is Professor Reijer Passchier. ‘Artificial Intelligence is spreading so fast and has such an impact on everyday life that every citizen should know more about it.’

The course (in Dutch) follows on from De Nationale AI-Cursus (The National AI Course), which more than 300,000 people have already taken. The course aims to give a good idea of how data and algorithms are used, how this is developing and what the impact might be on society. Passchier: ‘AI is gaining in importance and is becoming part of our daily lives. The government and businesses using more and more artificial intelligence and citizens should be able to have a say in this. That is what makes this course of interest to everyone.’

Passchier is Assistant Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at Leiden University and Professor of Digitalisation and the Constitutional State at the Open University in the Netherlands. He is affiliated with the Leiden Legal Technologies Program (in Dutch) and wrote the book Artificiële intelligentie en de rechtsstaat (Artificial Intelligence and the Constitutional State). ‘AI isn’t good, bad or neutral,’ says Passchier. ‘The way it’s programmed determines which values it upholds. We have to be aware of this ethical aspect. Does AI uphold the values that are important to us? Or does it compromise them?’ For instance, AI can discriminate, Passchier explains. ‘If AI looks for burglary suspects, people with a certain skin colour may be more likely to be selected.’

Imbalance in the trias politica

In the course, Passchier gives the ‘AI and democracy’ section. How is the rise of AI affecting democracy? Passchier: ‘Within government, it’s mainly the executive that uses AI. The government therefore has a lot of expertise in this area and ample budget to hire consultants, whereas the judiciary has this to a much lesser extent and parliament hardly at all. This causes an imbalance in the trias politica.’

This imbalance has serious consequences for our democratic state, says Passchier. ‘It is becoming much more difficult for the judiciary and parliament to check the executive. As the checks and balances aren’t working as well, the risk of policy errors, arbitrariness and oppression of citizens is increasing.’ Passchier gives the example of the child benefits scandal, in which the Tax and Customs Administration used algorithms to check citizens.

‘We’re caught in a technology trap’

Parliament and the judiciary therefore have some catching up to do when it comes to AI. Passchier advocates using AI to strengthen the judiciary. ‘This would make the judiciary much more effective.’ Using less AI is not an option, says Passchier. ‘I don’t think there’s a way back. We’re caught in a technology trap.’

Not only citizens but also many judges and MPs still have much to learn about AI. ‘They often lack the expertise to ask the right questions. That’s why I’d recommend this course to them too. And if they then want to learn more, they can sign up for the Leiden Legal Technologies Program.’

Text: Tom Janssen
Image: Created with Dall-E, an AI program that creates images from descriptions in natural language.

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