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Marina Echebarría, Professor of Law: “Behind all artificial intelligence there must be an accountable human being”


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Law Professor, Marina Echebarría, during her lecture at CNIO. / Laura M. Lombardía. CNIO

Echebarría spoke at the conference entitled “Challenges of law versus technology", as a guest speaker of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Office at CNIO

“If we understand and address the risks posed by artificial intelligence, we will respond appropriately (…). This is a wonderful time in history, and it is up to us to create a future that could be glorious,” Echebarría said

Scientists and legal experts “must work together”, Echebarría said, and “devise responses or applications that eliminate risks at the source”

“At the dawn of the 21st century, technology has completely changed the context; it changes the very way we see things,” says Marina Echebarría, an expert in New Technologies Law and Professor of Commercial Law at the University of Valladolid (UVA).

Invited to speak at the National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) by the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Office of CNIO,  at its conference Challenges of Law versus Technology, Echebarría focused especially on Artifical Intelligence (AI): “If we are able to understand the risks of AI and address them, then we will respond accordingly. But we need training and education. It is a collective process of awareness”.

Marina Echebarría Sáenz has authored several books on different branches of law. Her latest work is on topics such as digital platforms, electronic means of payment, and crypto assets. She is also a well-known LGBTI activist and one of the leading experts in trans rights. She has participated in the drafting of various regional legislation on gender identity, as well as Law 3/2007 on the change of registered sex and the EU’s LGBTI external lines of action.

 “As things stand today, we cannot give artificial intelligence legal personality”

“Are we going to be able to give artificial intelligence legal personality?” Echebarría asked in her analysis of the legal challenges posed by the emergence of artificial intelligence. “As things stand today, no. Behind all artificial intelligence there must be an accountable human being. Artificial intelligence has no capacity to be held accountable”.

So how can we regulate such a powerful tool with a potential impact on so many social areas, from ethics to the labour market? To begin with, said the expert, “we need to focus on fundamental human rights, on respect for human dignity and freedom, and start from there to develop normative principles for the application of these technologies.”

Artificial Intelligence Supervisory Agency

On 5 December, Isabel Rodríguez, Minister for Territorial Policy, announced that the future headquarters of the Artificial Intelligence Supervisory Agency will be in A Coruña. Echebarría mentioned this organisation in her lecture, whose creation she considers to be a first step towards the regulated integration of AI into society: “It is only an embryo of everything that is to come, because this is directed towards the Public Administrations, but outside of this is the whole private sector”.

Echebarría also raised another important question: “Who owns data? We have not yet decided. Data about personality and fundamental rights, we could argue that they belong to each individual; but economic data, who do they belong to? Some will have to be public, others shared, and there will be an area for reserved data. But we will have to decide which ones”.

This point is of particular relevance in the scientific field: “It could be tremendously significant for scientific data to be shared, and we will have to think very judiciously about which ones can remain in private hands, which could be used in lines of research that are relevant for the whole of humanity, for example, in relation to cancer”, concluded the expert.

She also spoke about consent in the management of personal data. Current regulations are “falling short,” according to this expert, “because there has to be some kind of configuration about what data are requested for”.

“Researchers and legal experts must work together”

“How do we apply this to science?”, she asked. “Research projects must be accompanied from the outset by legal criteria. Researchers have to sit down with us [jurists] and begin to think of answers or applications that, beyond the engineering solution, eliminate certain risks at source”, she said.

However, Echebarría concluded that her view of our relationship with technology is positive: “We are in a wonderful period in history in which we cannot wait for that inexorable line of science that will lead us to glory. Rather, it is in our power to create that future, which could be glorious”.

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