The collaboration agreement signed last week between the Government of Spain and the ADIA Lab, an artificial intelligence (AI) research center in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), continues to cause anger. A group of NGOs that work for digital and fundamental rights have expressed their disagreement with the agreement through an open letter in which they consider it ethically questionable to establish scientific ties with a country that systematically violates human rights. Especially when the matter in which they will cooperate, AI, can be a very effective tool in these violations of rights.
The organizations AlgoRace, AlgoRights, lafede.cat and DigitalFems, promoters of the document, recall that, according to Amnesty International’s annual report, the UAE government commits “serious violations of human rights, including arbitrary arrests, cruel and inhuman treatment in custody, suppression of freedom of expression and violation of the right to privacy”. Human Rights Watch, for its part, has also denounced the use in that country of surveillance technologies prohibited in the EU, such as facial recognition in public spaces or “Israeli digital espionage tools.” It has also been documented that the country continues to repeatedly violate the rights of women and LGTBI people.
The open letter, sent today to the attention of Nadia Calviño, First Vice President of the Government and Minister of Economic Affairs and Digitization, and Carme Artigas, Secretary of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence, has collected a dozen supporters in the previous 24 hours to its publication, including SOS Racismo or Rights International Spain. As EL PAÍS announced this Wednesday, three members of the AI Advisory Council resigned last week in protest of the agreement signed with the Emirates. They do not see compatible working for an ethical AI and at the same time having deals with a research center financed by an autocracy and that has scientists questioned in the academy in its ranks. Two of the experts who left the advisory body, as well as two other Spanish AI leaders, published a forum in this newspaper explaining why we should be concerned about the agreement.
The ADIA Lab is a scientific center financed by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), the richest emirate in the UAE, and which has assets worth approximately 800,000 million dollars. “Spain has agreed on a research agenda with a scientific center financed by a government that does not recognize the independence of science, that tramples on human rights, especially women, LGTBQI+ communities and immigrants, and whose wealth comes mainly from oil. ”, the experts point out in the letter published in EL PAÍS.
Asked by this newspaper about the objections of scientists to the agreement, sources from the Secretary of State responded that they consider it “very positive that an institution of scientific prestige that has Nobel Prize winners on its board chooses to establish itself in Spain rather than in other European countries such as France or Germany.
The agreement contemplates the upcoming opening in Granada of the European headquarters of ADIA Lab, the Emirati center, as well as the launch of five lines of research related to AI. These have to do with casual analysis and experimental design in public health; the economic modeling of climate change and its mitigation policies; the digital economy, decentralized registry technology and tokenization; high performance computing and interpretable AI and reliable automation.
“We wonder how the independence of scientific research focused on the economic modeling of climate change and its mitigation policies is going to be ensured given that oil is the main source of income for the US,” the NGOs point out in their writing.
These organizations request a meeting with the Secretary of State “to discuss how to guarantee the protection of human rights with said collaboration within the European framework.” The promoters of the letter regret that the department has not taken into account the voices of organizations for human and digital rights, as Artigas, the head of the department, promised to do. in a meeting held last year with various civil society organizations.
They also ask the Ministry for more transparency, especially with regard to how the more than five million euros committed to the project will be invested, and the signing of a public document declaring the “scientific and ethical integrity, as well as the protection of fundamental rights, in the projects carried out”.