AI: German Foreign Minister Calls For Keeping Humans In Control At GMF24

Bonn, Germany — The rise of artificial intelligence offers great potential but also makes disinformation campaigns cheaper and more effective, warned German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the opening session of the 2024 Global Media Forum (GMF) held on Monday at the World Conference Centre Bonn.

The two-day event hosted by Deutsche Welle (DW) offers media professionals from over 120 countries and decision-makers an opportunity to explore the challenges facing journalism and seek solutions.

In her keynote speech, Baerbock recalled how AI-generated deepfakes portraying her as a prostitute emerged online as part of a disinformation campaign against her.

“AI makes disinformation campaigns cheaper, easier and more effective,” the minister said at this year’s event themed ‘Sharing Solutions’.

“Campaigns that are capable of undermining trust in democratic institutions, but also in independent journalists Like Maria Ressa.”

The minister called for international regulations to ensure AI technology benefits society while keeping human beings in control.

“That is why, again, we have to think about how to handle this situation, like back in the days during the emergence of the internet. It has such a big, positive dimension. And it won’t go away. But we have to be prepared for the negative sides. This is why we are pushing for international regulation of AI.”

“We want to be able to harness the great potential of AI, but at the same time, we want to make sure that it is used fairly and ethically,” Baerbock added, pointing to a new AI Convention recently adopted by the Council of Europe as a key step to ensuring that basic rights, freedom of expression and protection from discrimination applies to AI.

“Because we need to shape this technology in a way that keeps human beings in control, that benefits all our societies. We know that this will be a task for an entire generation, not only for journalists, not only for politicians, but for all parts of society. But if we don’t start addressing this task now, we will risk falling behind.

“And let me be clear: We should not make the same mistake twice. When the big social media platforms emerged in the 1990s, we did not realise the challenges that this ground-breaking new way of interacting would entail. Today, we have learned that we cannot leave it to a handful of CEOs and algorithms to shape the rules on how millions of people communicate.

“That is why the EU enacted the Digital Services Act, which obliges large tech companies with more than 45 million users to delete false information more quickly.

“These solutions are important to make sure that independent voices are not silenced, that our platforms are not flooded with fake news, that journalists can do their job.

“And that is part of an even bigger question: how do we make our societies more resilient, not just against the challenges of technology, but also against the rise in hatred and propaganda that we are all exposed to? You, as journalists, we as politicians, and all of us as members of open societies. I’m glad that we are about to discuss these issues in a minute.”

She also noted the role of independent journalism and a free press in holding power to account and giving voice to the voiceless.

Baerbock mentioned initiatives like the German government’s Hannah Arendt programme that has supported 5,000 journalists fleeing oppression.

“One thing is clear: independent journalism is a cornerstone of our democratic system.
And this is why I want to thank you all.
I want to thank you, not only as journalists, but as people.

“For holding those in power accountable.
For telling the stories that would otherwise go unnoticed.

“For giving a voice to those who would otherwise go unheard. And, by doing so, making our democracies more resilient.”

The minister’s concerns were echoed by Maria Ressa, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and CEO of Philippine online news site Rappler, who has faced online harassment including obscene deep fake images.

“The window for action is closing, but it is still open,” Ressa said during a panel on democracy’s resilience, urging international oversight of AI and big tech firms.

When asked what media professionals can do against undemocratic trends, Ressa said: “It’s simple, keep working”.

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