With the splashy launch of ChatGPT last fall raising concerns about the implications of artificial intelligence, the BC Green Party is urging the provincial government to create an all-party AI task force.
The news comes in the wake of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and its counterpart offices in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, all launching investigations into OpenAI, the company responsible for the popular chatbot that has dominated headlines in recent months.
“As a subnational jurisdiction, we need to know how we’re going to be communicating with the federal government and the expectations we have in terms of the regulation they would create,” Adam Olsen, BC Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, told Global News.
“I think there are a number of privacy experts we could bring in to talk to, we could be hearing from the government itself as it what it is doing to armour ourselves against the potential impacts.”
Olsen said it’s possible that the B.C. government could introduce AI regulations, but it’s more likely that Ottawa will take the lead. Either way, he said MLAs ought to understand know how the technology could impact — for better or worse — government operations, the economy, education, and more.
“We as MLAs need to be informed, we need have some common understanding around this so when we’re talking about it, we’re working from a common base, and I think that’s one of the things a task force can do,” he explained.
“It’s a positive story as well if we are prepared and have the right regulation in place.”
According to Alan Mackworth, a professor emeritus in the University of British Columbia’s computer science department, B.C. is already “behind the eight-ball on this one.”
“We’ve let it go too long without proactively setting up the conditions for using artificial intelligence, and the impact on the economy, on people’s jobs, and the way we work play and live is going to be profound,” he said in an interview.
“It’s already happening and it’s not too late to do something, but we need to do it now.”
The European Union is already finalizing its own AI Act, which classifies different AI tools based on their perceived level of risk and harm to users. Organizations who use them would have different obligations and conditions, based on that level of risk.
Facial recognition software in public spaces would be banned under the legislation.
In Canada, Mackworth said there are several options — regulation at different levels of government, regulation at the international level, regulations within private organizations and companies, and a new certifications or standards for the industry.
“Just as we have the Canadian standards authority for regulating appliances to make sure they’re safe, we could have an independent certification authority for artificial intelligence for applications, testifying that they are safe in use.”
Leaders of the G7 nations at a working session currently underway in Japan have called for the development of technical standards for the AI industry, and will meet to discuss regulation next week.
On Friday, Premier David Eby said AI presents both “incredible opportunities for British Columbia, and also significant potential for disruption and unintended consequences that the government needs to be very attuned to.”
“I’ve had discussions with Microsoft about their work recently in relation to AI, with OpenAI, and the head of the public service has already initiated work around making sure our government in the public service level is responsive to these new technological developments,” he said.
“Overall, I think AI — in terms of B.C.’s technology sector, our economy, and the opportunities it presents for increasing our productivity, our efficiency and opportunities for all British Columbians, is very significant and we want to be able to take advantage of that while addressing any negative impacts.”
The Canadian privacy authorities, including B.C.’s, that are currently investigating OpenAI, have committed to releasing their findings to the public.
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