Innovative technologies that employ AI have the capacity to help save lives in health related emergencies, including monitoring, tracking and anticipating the propagation of the virus. However, historically, crisis situations have led to urgent and rapid uses of technology, without much attention to the wider social, economic, cultural and political context. While this may be somewhat understandable, the danger is that short-term decisions made now, amid the urgency of a crisis, may lead to long-term habits, approaches and norms that are difficult to reverse. Trade-offs, therefore, need to be clearly recognized and discussed. There is a need to create ethical frameworks that give users clear sets of rules and considerations, foster trust in data and technology, and maximize the potential of AI while limiting its harms.
There has been a variety of responses during the COVID-19 pandemic at national and local levels to use of AI-enabled tools. A comparative approach to understanding the ethical and social impacts of innovative technologies developed and employed in times of crises will facilitate a collection of lesson learned and create more comprehensive policy guidance that will aid stakeholders going forward. The resulting research will provide practical outputs in terms of guidance and frameworks and aims to build capacity for the public, policy makers and technology developers going forward.
Case Study: Ethics and the Use of AI-based Tracing Tools to Manage the COVID-19 Pandemic