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Privacy during a pandemic with Luciano Floridi

Privacy during a pandemic with Luciano Floridi

In the second edition of our virtual "AI&I" talk Philosopher Luciano Floridi sketches out five key factors when it comes to assessing the effectiveness of contact tracing.

The Vodafone Institute’s “AI&I” discussion series may have moved online, but the content remains just as stimulating. The institute welcomed Professor Luciano Floridi for an in-depth discussion built on ethical principles of an information society in the context of the pandemic.

Floridi set out the two separate phases that mobile software applications can be useful in supporting when it comes to contact tracing. Phase 1 looks to reduce the number of infected cases and flatten the curve, whilst phase 2 is more concerned with ending the lockdown and a return to normality. There is also the argument between which type of application governing bodies should opt for: centralised (PEPP-PT) versus decentralised (DP-3T).

On top of these two different philosophies are various trade-offs. Professor Floridi outlined these considerations into five key factors:

  1. Legally acceptable – GDPR needs to be taken into account
  2. Medically useful – If an app isn’t medically useful, then surely it is wasting our time
  3. Technically reliable – concerning compatibility across different devices with varying software
  4. Socially preferable – people need to be happy to download the app
  5. Epidemiologically useful – to help build a greater picture of the pandemic, helping with any future outbreaks of the virus

These factors are then graded from unimportant to critical (see above), although Professor Floridi posited that trade-offs aren’t so simple. In some cases, experts may disagree with the importance of each trade-off, as well as how each app is delivered – opting for either a centralised or a decentralised approach.

These factors are then graded from unimportant to critical (see above), although Professor Floridi posited that trade-offs aren’t so simple. In some cases, experts may disagree with the importance of each trade-off, as well as how each app is delivered – opting for either a centralised or a decentralised approach.

Tech-giants Apple and Google have opted for decentralised applications, and have even influenced various governments with their approach. The Professor argues the case that for apps to be effective, they require more uptake by individuals. For this to happen, you simply need more trust.

How much uptake deems a tracing app effective?

Professor Floridi pointed out that an app with a population uptake of just 20% will yield the same results against the coronavirus as drinking water. A successful measure of uptake would see a figure in the region of 50-60% of a population downloading the app, and for best results, you could expect 80% of the populace. It is worth remembering that this population only concerns those with the digital tools that enable them to use the app… so only those with mobile phone devices.

Discussions underpinned by democracy

The control of technology is another consideration. People may ask: does the technology control us? Or do we control the technology? And this is where we fall deeper into the realm of philosophy.

The control of technology is concerned with key factors. Individuals must verify their offering, ensure they build the right thing, and then proceed to validate it and proceed to build it correctly.

If verified and validated offerings no longer concern privacy, we must then look to other issues. Efficacy is one of these, and so too is social justice. On bringing in the notion of incentives, the Professor used the example of rewarding individuals with the right to go back to work should they download the app. Luciano stresses, however, that if governments do take this approach, they should not discriminate between the rich and poor, and ensure that we refrain from a socially unjust approach.

Click here to watch the full video of the “AI&I” vTalk with Professor Luciano Floridi.

Watch other discussions from the “AI&I” event series

The Vodafone Institute launched the AI&I“ series of events in Berlin in 2018 to create a platform for a constructive, interdisciplinary dialogue on the effects of artificial intelligence on our society and economy. To stimulate a diverse debate and inform decision-makers, we have already discussed with renowned researchers such as Vinton G. CerfPascal FinetteNuria OliverSir Martin Rees, Sir Nigel Shadbolt and lastly with Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang. Finally, Luciano Floridi has previously been part of the event series, talking about ethical aspects of artificial intelligence.