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Alessandro Mantelero

Professor at the Politecnico di Torino

Alessandro Mantelero is Associate Professor of Private Law and Law & Technology at Polytechnic University of Turin. In 2022 he was granted the Jean Monnet Chair in Mediterranean Digital Societies and Law by the European Commission. He is member of the Support Pool of Experts of the European Data Protection Board.

From 2016 to 2022, he served as scientific expert for the Council of Europe on AI, data protection and human rights. On these topics, he has also advised several organizations, including the United Nations, the European Commission, the European Data Protection Board, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Italian Ministry of Justice, the Presidency of the Dominican Republic, and the Brazilian Federal Senate. He regularly acts as an independent ethics reviewer for the ERC Executive Agency and other EU agencies.

His latest book is Beyond Data. Human Rights, Ethical and Social Impact Assessment in AI (Springer-Asser, 2022, open access).

The role of human rights in the EU’s ‘third way’ of regulating AI in the global geopolitical scenario

It is well known that geopolitics is not only about borders, economy and wars, but is also about how societies can be influenced by inducing certain desired changes. The effects of the latter strategy, in terms of impact on other countries, can be much more significant that those achievable by other means. 

In digital societies, decision-making is largely data-driven, but data is not a resource available to everyone and that everyone can exploit in the same way. Power over data, power over digital infrastructures, and power over raw materials essential for IT are therefore key elements of the global geopolitical scenario. This is even more true considering the increasing role played by AI, which further emphasises our dependence on data and technology. 

Moreover, public bodies, including research bodies, can hardly compete with the powerful players of the digital economy in the control over information, which makes them, in some cases, quasi-state entities. This has led to framing the geopolitical scenario also in terms of public-private relationship, including peculiar situations of state-funded and actively supported IT companies.   

Against this background, state actors can play a key role in guiding the development of AI and in defining its boundaries and principles in a way that mitigates de facto asymmetries and power concentrations that may negatively affect both society and inter-state relations.

Given the difficulties in achieving truly effective global solutions based on common international agreements, at the current stage of AI development, it is more promising to advocate a key role for human rights in shaping this technology. This not only mitigates the aforementioned power asymmetries, but also contributes to better defining the ‘third way’, between market and state power, that the European Union is adopting in shaping digital societies and their geopolitical space. Not least, the focus on human rights can help to react to the recent process of fragmentation of the world in the post-globalisation era and strengthen the role of multilateralism.

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