Meeting in the Middle and Increasing Trust




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Jun 16, 2019
by Oscar Tollast
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Meeting in the Middle and Increasing Trust

Lee Hibbard, deputy secretary of Committee on Bioethics of the Council of Europe, reflects on reaching out across sectors, metrics for ethics, and doing the right thing Lee Hibbard at Salzburg Global Seminar

What are the metrics for ethics regarding AI-enabled products and services? What do you need to inform public trust? What are the protocols? What are the accreditation, transparency, and accountability measures required? These are just some of the questions which brought Lee Hibbard to Salzburg Global Seminar, as he continued his quest to obtain a greater understanding.

Earlier this year, the deputy secretary of the Committee on Bioethics of the Council of Europe found himself as a participant at the inaugural program of the Salzburg Global Law and Technology Forum: Privacy, Security, and Ethics in an Asymmetric World. During the three-day program, Hibbard and his peers defined initial priority issues and identified possibilities for new international norms and practical collaborations.

In his role on the Committee on Bioethics, Hibbard is focused on the development of a strategic action plan concerning governance arrangements in the biomedical field. He told Salzburg Global, “Technology is really the promise to help improve health care, and it is really exciting. We’re looking at, in general terms, not just AI, but we’re looking at, what are the biomedical implications [and] considerations for the next five years? And, in that, there’s a lot of technology and human rights discussion.”

Until recently, Hibbard was the internet governance coordinator at the Council of Europe. His responsibilities included strategizing and liaising with governments, the private sector, and intergovernmental organizations. He helped set up a platform for dialogue on human rights and the rule of law between internet companies and governments within the Council of Europe.

Hibbard believes individual rights are important to maintain. He doesn’t believe there’s anything “completely nihilistic” at the moment regarding technology, but there is a lot of scaremongering concerning the future of AI and the potential loss of jobs which will occur. According to Hibbard, there is a need to find a middle space to encourage collaboration and understand further the importance of ethics and how they interface with rights and freedoms.

He said, “There’s a lot of work in that middle space to try to say, ‘We agree to be pedagogical. We agree that it’s about the past, it’s about now, and it’s about the future.’ We must create a continuum. We must find a way where we can come together… Democracy’s about sitting in the middle, opening your ears and saying, ‘I’m listening to you, and I am trying to understand you, and I’m trying to maybe even change my mind.’ But if we live in this polarized world where we all think we know what we know and that’s it, then we’re not meeting in the middle.”

Hibbard has been involved in the field of technology and human rights since 2005. During this time, he has brought people together to create new platforms and worked with member states to develop policy instruments. He said, “I’m quite curious about technology in general. I read about AI. I am helping to shape a course on AI, and I am quite curious and quite passionate about societal issues—how society should be informed… We’re missing the fact that it’s not just about companies and states, it’s about people…”

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Hibbard said, “You don’t know what the hurt is in the tech world yet. You don’t know what’s happening to your data. You don’t know what’s being built around your avatar self, so you actually don’t know if you’re being hurt… whether it becomes about insurance payments, about lifestyle choices… all these things are not understood digitally online. I’m very curious to make sure that we do the right thing. We’re in a moment of transition, of course, and we have the power to come together and discuss these things.”

Hibbard recognizes the value of communication and bringing different sectors together. He has previously attended two Salzburg Global Fellowship events, including a Klingenthal meeting in 2016 titled, Remaking the State: The Impact of the Digital Revolution Now and to Come. He said, “It’s very, very refreshing to meet people that you don’t normally… meet and get to talk about a common subject… we’re all pretty much in the same situation, just at different ends of the spectrum, and, actually, we’ve got a lot of common things.”

Currently, there are not enough people from other sectors coming together, having these discussions, according to Hibbard. Silos need to keep being broken, and discussions need to keep taking place regularly, particularly in the field of technology and human rights. He said, “We need to demystify what we think we don’t understand as about being technical and overcome that vertigo and really get to the same table…. We need to find a way to understand it, and we need to make that jump…”

The Salzburg Global Seminar program, Privacy, Security, and Ethics in an Asymmetric World, was the inaugural program of the Salzburg Global Law and Technology Forum. More information on this multi-year series is available at the following link: