Whittaker on Corporate Capture of AI

Meredith Whittaker (NYU) has posted “The Steep Cost of Capture” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In considering how to tackle this onslaught of industrial AI, we must first recognize that the “advances” in AI celebrated over the past decade were not due to fundamental scientific breakthroughs in AI techniques. They were and are primarily the product of significantly concentrated data and compute resources that reside in the hands of a few large tech corporations. Modern AI is fundamentally dependent on corporate resources and business practices, and our increasing reliance on such AI cedes inordinate power over our lives and institutions to a handful of tech firms. It also gives these firms significant influence over both the direction of AI development and the academic institutions wishing to research it.

Meaning that tech firms are startlingly well positioned to shape what we do—and do not—know about AI and the business behind it, at the same time that their AI products are working to shape our lives and institutions.

Examining the history of the U.S. military’s influence over scientific research during the Cold War, we see parallels to the tech industry’s current influence over AI. This history also offers alarming examples of the way in which U.S. military dominance worked to shape academic knowledge production, and to punish those who dissented.

Today, the tech industry is facing mounting regulatory pressure, and is increasing its efforts to create tech-positive narratives and to silence and sideline critics in much the same way the U.S. military and its allies did in the past. Taken as a whole, we see that the tech industry’s dominance in AI research and knowledge production puts critical researchers and advocates within, and beyond, academia in a treacherous position. This threatens to deprive frontline communities, policymakers, and the public of vital knowledge about the costs and consequences of AI and the industry responsible for it—right at the time that this work is most needed.

Botero Arcila & Groza on the EU Data Act

Beatriz Botero Arcila (Sciences Po Law; Harvard Berkman Klein) and Teodora Groza (Sciences Po Law) have posted “Comments to the Data Act from the Law and Technology Group of Sciences Po Law School” on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

These are comments submitted by members of the Law and Technology Group of Sciences Po Law School to the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on harmonised rules on fair access to and use of data (“Data Act”), open for open consultation and feedback from stakeholders from 14 March to 13 May 2022.

We welcome the Commission’s initiative and share the general concern and idea that data concentration and barriers to data sharing contribute to the concentration of the digital economy in Europe. Similarly, based on our own research we share the Commission’s diagnosis that legal and technical barriers prevent different actors to enter in voluntary data-sharing agreements and transactions.

In general, we believe the Data Act is a good initiative, that will flexibilize some of the barriers that exist in the European market to facilitate the creation of value from data by different stakeholders, and not only those who produce it. In this document, however, we focus on five key clarifications that should be taken into account to further achieve this goal: (1) relieving the user from the burden the “data-sharing” mechanism, as this mechanism may be asking users to act beyond their rational capabilities; (2) the definition of the market as the one for related services fails to unlock the competitive potential of data sharing and might increase concentration in the primary markets for IoT devices; (3) service providers need to nudge users into sharing their data; (4) the difficulty of working with the personal – non personal data binary suggested by the act; and (5) the obligation to make data available to public sector bodies sets a barre that may be too hard to meet and may hamper the usefulness of this provision.