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Latin America joins global AI regulations race as threats grow

Words reading 'Artificial intelligence AI', miniature of robot and toy hand are pictured in this illustration taken December 14, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
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Words reading "Artificial intelligence AI", miniature of robot and toy hand are pictured in this illustration taken December 14, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

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Mexican AI chief says balancing innovation with limits on the technology's potential harms will be vital in the Global South

  • Mexico's AI chief aims to balance innovation with controls
  • Senator says media literacy key to fighting disinformation
  • Latin America seen next in line in global push for rules

MEXICO CITY - As Europe, the United States and China set the pace in the global race to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) tools, Latin America will be next to take action, said the senator leading Mexico's push to govern the technology's use.

Sen. Alejandra Lagunes heads Mexico's National Artificial Intelligence Alliance, set up by Congress last April to help the country reap economic benefits from AI's development while also limiting its potential harms - from election disinformation to digital sexual harassment.

In Mexico, which currently has no AI regulations, she said it would be crucial to strike the right balance between the technology's pros and cons, and pursue an AI strategy "that will take us from consumers to developers".

"Regulating based on fear can halt innovation and the possibility of levelling the ground between Mexico and other countries from the Global South with the big tech developers in the Global North," she told Context in an interview.

AI could yield job opportunities for Mexican software engineers to develop tools that solve local needs - from healthcare to public safety, and the technology that powers them, Lagunes added.

"There is great opportunity in developing microchips and the platforms necessary for artificial intelligence," she said.

At least eight countries in Latin America have introduced legislation to regulate AI, with Brazil moving forward on some of the most comprehensive bills.

Mexico is also looking to Chile, where neurorights are protected in the law as a response to technologies that scan, analyse and sell mental data.

"Right now, there are three main global blocks working on AI – the U.S., China, and the European Union," Lagunes said. "I believe Latin America will be the fourth block."

Democracy risks

Mexico's push to tackle AI regulations comes as the country's attention turns towards a June presidential election, one of dozens of major votes taking place around the world this year amid warnings about AI's rising threat to democracy.

Lagunes said she feared the 97 million Mexicans eligible to vote could be swayed by AI-generated disinformation in the run-up to the election.

"The greatest challenge is our inability to differentiate what is real from what is not. We will make our votes based on distorted decisions, which will be very grave for democracy," she said.

Elsewhere in Latin America, AI has already been cropping up in election campaigns, for example in Argentina's 2023 presidential vote.

So far, political parties in Mexico have used the technology in a positive way, Lagunes said.

Last year, opposition presidential candidate Xóchitl Gálvez launched an "AI spokesperson" called "iXóchitl" in a step aimed at striking a chord with younger voters and encouraging more interaction with the public.

In the absence of regulations, Lagunes said the Alliance has been trying to raise awareness of the potential threat of AI-driven disinformation.

"This is a matter of media literacy - our position is that we must keep the citizens informed through a collaboration between media, electoral authorities, and social media platforms," she said.

"Fact-checking organizations will be fundamental in helping citizens know what is real and what is fake," she added.

Mexican Senator Alejandra Lagunes is pictured standing in her office in Mexico City, Mexico. January 16, 2024. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Diana Baptista

Mexican Senator Alejandra Lagunes is pictured standing in her office in Mexico City, Mexico. January 16, 2024. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Diana Baptista

Mexican Senator Alejandra Lagunes is pictured standing in her office in Mexico City, Mexico. January 16, 2024. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Diana Baptista

Whoever wins the Mexican election will receive an AI policy paper from the Alliance, a document that will be added to the National Development Plan, laying the groundwork for regulations, a designated budget and policies to harness AI's potential - starting with the education system, Lagunes said.

"We need to start training our population from childhood in coding, English, and maths. We also need to prepare our elderly population so they can adopt the required digital abilities," she said.

"I believe this technology can be the world's greatest equaliser."

(Reporting by Diana Baptista; Editing by Helen Popper.)


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Computer specialists of the misinformation team take part in the NATO-led cyber war games 'Locked Shields 2023' in Tallinn, Estonia April 18, 2023. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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Disinformation: Is democracy under threat?

From falsehoods to deepfakes, here’s a collection of our stories on what online disinformation means for democracy

Updated: August 23, 2023


Tags

  • Disinformation and misinformation
  • Content moderation
  • Tech regulation




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