As the 2023 election campaign in New Zealand enters its final days, there is a concerning lack of discussion about the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications for the country’s economy, politics, and society. AI experts and a majority of New Zealanders are nervous about AI, yet politicians seem to be ignoring this significant issue.
Recent developments in AI, such as ChatGPT and Midjourney, have raised concerns among experts about the deeper consequences of these digital tools. Additionally, a survey conducted by global market research firm Ipsos found that 63% of New Zealanders were nervous about AI, despite only 35% fully understanding where it is being used. This widespread unease should prompt politicians to address the issue.
During a recent election debate, leaders of the major political parties were questioned about the threat of AI to humanity. Labour’s Chris Hipkins acknowledged that it had potential risks, while National’s Christopher Luxon recognized that there were both good and bad aspects to it. However, their responses lacked depth and failed to address the immediate issues at hand.
One pressing concern is the impact of AI on jobs. In May 2023, the United States alone lost 4,000 jobs to AI. McKinsey, a global business consulting firm, has estimated that 12 million American workers will need to switch jobs by 2030 due to generative AI, which is capable of generating text, images, and other media. This significant displacement of workers requires proactive measures from the government, such as implementing a tax on AI to support those who will lose their jobs.
The societal implications of AI extend beyond job displacement. Over the past two decades, social media has contributed to a rise in misinformation, disinformation, and political polarization. With the advent of more human-like AI bots, these threats will become even more pervasive and difficult to combat. Additionally, the use of AI can reinforce existing biases and prejudices, leading to inequitable outcomes, particularly in New Zealand, where AI models trained on Westernized data fail to consider Māori tikanga and data sovereignty. Moreover, AI defaults to English, which puts minority languages at risk.
While the New Zealand government has embraced the use of AI across various sectors, it has fallen behind other countries in terms of regulating the technology. The European Union is expected to pass the AI Act into law by the end of 2023, which will classify AI tools based on their level of risk and impose corresponding legislative requirements. Canada has already announced a voluntary code of conduct for safe and responsible generative AI systems. Even in the US, individual states are passing laws to address the perceived threats of AI. New Zealand must catch up and establish comprehensive regulations.
Although there are small signs of progress, such as the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser discussing New Zealand’s response to AI and Labour’s promise of a “just transition” for AI-affected workers in their election manifesto, these efforts lack specific details and a clear AI strategy. The absence of robust regulations and policies leaves New Zealand vulnerable to manipulation by foreign interests and misses the opportunity to foster AI that benefits everyone.
To address these challenges, New Zealand needs stronger data privacy laws that recognize data as a taonga, or treasure, and require informed consent for its use in AI. Specialized policing is necessary to investigate the misuse of deepfakes for identity theft and revenge porn. Clear regulations are needed to determine what can and cannot be automated with AI, such as government benefit eligibility decisions and low-level sentencing in the justice system. Economically, steps must be taken to ensure that the profits from AI applications using local data remain in New Zealand.
Additionally, New Zealand should invest in its workforce to prepare for the changes brought about by AI and embrace Māori-driven AI research to create technologies that work for the people. Without active government regulation and strategic planning, New Zealand risks falling behind in the AI race and failing to harness its benefits while protecting its citizens.
In the final days of the election campaign, politicians must address the rise of AI and present comprehensive strategies and regulations to ensure that New Zealand can navigate the AI future with fairness, privacy, and societal well-being at the forefront. It is the responsibility of the government to lead on important issues like AI and protect the interests of the people they serve.