Artificial intelligence, data, and the law

In mid-October, I had the privilege of being invited to a terrific conference on AI hosted by the German-Southeast Asian Center for Good Governance and Public Policy (CGP). CGP is an academic think tank collaboration between Thammasat University, Frankfurt University, Münster University, and Passau University, which is hosted by the Faculty of Law of Thammasat University in Bangkok. You can see details on the conference at its website: “Governing the Future: Digitalization, Artificial Intelligence, Dataism.” For those interested in intersection of policy, academia, and law, CPG and the folks they bring into the conversation offer tremendous value.

There are enormous public policy implications in contemporary AI and data analysis. Surveillance capitalism, deepfake videos, AI-composed fake news items, military robotics, and other technologies all raise ethical and civic concerns that require real consideration as progress continues. Conference participants described a variety of issues and cutting-edge research in AI (many of the participants are directly involved in design, implementation, or legal aspects of those technologies).

Given my current interest in policy optimization for AI research (that appears in a new book under review), the event was a wonderful opportunity for me to try out some of my ideas in a public forum. Somewhat surprisingly, my belief that religious values can be leveraged for beneficial (though also for problematic or even malicious) AI design and deployment found an enthusiastic audience among members of the tech innovators, lawyers, and others in attendance. My position is grounded in the prior claim that such values already find their way into the culture of AI and is thus an extension of that: we should be aware of what values are at stake and use them to best possible effect.


An audience member asked me to speak on China, AI, and ethical values but I demurred on responding due to my relative ignorance about China. Being more-or-less an anthropologist means I’d prefer to stick with places I’ve visited. That was one of several moments, however, where I could see the world slightly orthogonal to my usual expectations. I was in a country that must respond to China’s global political interests from a very different vantage than we in the States. It was the first time that I found myself caught between the political machinations of the U.S. and China or in a position to interact with possible expansionist politics. My work in India certainly involves international politics, but India’s position is quite different from Thailand’s (due to decades of non-alignment, twenty-first century strength in IT, national and diasporic populations, and many other reasons).

Other speakers at the event offered some remarkable insights. Among the many excellent contributions, I was particularly interested in Pindar Wong‘s discussion of post-geographical networks and the importance of introducing more balanced ethics to our economic models and data networks, Chris Reed‘s work using AI to visualize ideas and contributions to a debate and nudge the debate toward better outcomes, and Erik Vermeulen‘s work on data networks, legal education, and more collaborative approaches to building trustworthy corporate AI.

IMG_20191018_113903127_HDRIn this post, I’ve included two photos of Wat Arun in Bangkok. The central prang (spire) and the four that stand at the corners of the complex are covered in seashells and porcelain used as ballast in  trading ships (see Wikipedia). So there’s something fantastically networked about the temple’s aesthetic. Meanwhile, there is Indian, Chinese, and Thai imagery in the sculptures. The temple shows we’ve always been a bit more “post-geographic” than we hear nowadays. In Wat Arun, religious architecture bears the traces of technologies of trade and construction along with the connections of cultural communication. Today’s crisscrossing data networks accelerate and magnify our ability to connect with people and cultures all over the world. Hopefully, that can be an opportunity to consider our highest values and leverage technology toward human flourishing.



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