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COVID-19: AI can be a useful tool to combat pandemics, provided its use, including for tracking, is responsible, ethical and human-centred, says PACE rapporteur

“Although Artificial Intelligence (AI) may prove a useful ally in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, we should not forget that its use may raise serious human rights concerns that can undermine the trust placed in governments,” said Deborah Bergamini (Italy, EPP/CD), PACE rapporteur on the need for democratic governance of Artificial Intelligence.

Echoing concerns expressed by other international bodies, Ms Bergamini warned that, while there was a need for innovative efforts to confront the pandemic, “human rights, civil liberties and rule of law principles may be exposed or damaged if we do not tread this path with great caution”.

“The use of AI and surveillance technology to track the spread of the Coronavirus, or enhance monitoring and detection capabilities, may seem an effective response, but any excessive or unethical use may result in grave violations of the right to privacy and non-discrimination,” she added.

“AI cannot be considered a silver bullet for pandemics, but it is definitely a powerful tool that can help generate information to enable more precise and effective strategies for the prevention of, detection of and response to outbreaks, thus contributing to public health, if used properly,” she added.

“Α responsible, ethical and human-centred AI is needed now more than ever. It is crucial that the use of these tools be limited both in terms of purpose and time, and that national authorities scale back any newly-acquired monitoring capabilities after the end of this pandemic,” she concluded.