In a world first, Romania’s prime minister unveiled a new honorary government adviser that will be joining his team – run entirely on artificial intelligence (AI).
The AI is called Ion and consists of a mirror-like surface that displays text as well as at times a male or female face that responds in a calm voice.
“Hi, you gave me life and my role is now to represent you, like a mirror,” Ion’s voice said at the launch. “What should I know about Romania?”
The AI-powered adviser was developed by researchers to quickly analyse the opinions of Romanian citizens on key issues and policies. People will be able to chat with Ion on the project’s website.
The AI will also search social media to figure out what topics people are talking about and to carry out sentiment analysis to glean whether there is positive or negative reaction to a certain event, for example.
But how exactly is this Ion assistant going to help the Romanian government?
“I don’t expect that the prime minister will always do what Ion will say but it is more like a suggestion, it’s more like getting the pulse in real-time,” said Nicu Sebe, the research coordinator behind Ion and professor of computer science at the University of Trento.
“Another important aspect is that with this type of system, we hope to reach out to a large segment of the Romanian population,” he told Euronews.
Downsides to Ion the AI adviser?
While this technology is the first of its kind in the world, it may have some downsides according to experts.
“They [Romanian government] use the term public space. It seems like they are equating social media as the public space, which is problematic because not everyone is represented there,” Kris Shrishak, technology fellow at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, told Euronews.
“Certain voices will be amplified, especially if you post regularly. That is also the reason the public needs to know how that is going to decide which voices are going to be chosen and which ones are going to strongly influence whatever policy is put in place,” he added.
Indeed, certain experts are concerned that bots could start spamming social media to make it seem like a topic is trending when it’s actually not.
This happened in Poland a few months ago already. Fake social media accounts amplified anti-Ukraine hashtags on Twitter, making it look like there was massive opposition against Ukrainian refugees.
For Shrishak, what’s important is that this tool should not be used to decide future policies due to these risks.
“It should not be used as an input into whatever future policies are going to be developed. Rather, it could potentially be used in a way where you get feedback on policies that have already been implemented,” he said.
The researchers working on Ion told Euronews they will be closely monitoring the model and will implement changes if things don’t go as planned.
For more on this story, watch our report from The Cube in the media player above.