The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a report to Congress warning about using artificial intelligence (AI) to combat online problems and urging policymakers to exercise “great caution” about relying on it as a policy solution. 

The use of AI, particularly by big tech platforms and other companies, comes with limitations and problems of its own. The report outlines significant concerns that AI tools can be inaccurate, biased and discriminatory by design and incentivize relying on increasingly invasive forms of commercial surveillance.

“Our report emphasizes that nobody should treat AI as the solution to the spread of harmful online content,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Combatting online harm requires a broad societal effort, not an overly optimistic belief that new technology — which can be both helpful and dangerous — will take these problems off our hands.”

In 2021, the FTC began to examine ways that AI “may be used to identify, remove or take any other appropriate action necessary to address” several specified cyber and physical risks. The harms that are of particular concern to the federal government include online fraud, impersonation scams, fake reviews and accounts, bots, media manipulation, illegal drug sales and other illegal activities, sexual exploitation, hate crimes, online harassment and cyberstalking, and misinformation campaigns aimed at influencing elections.

Risks of AI use

The report outlines issues related to the use of AI-enabled tools, including:

Design flaws and inaccuracy: The detection capabilities of AI regarding online harms are significantly limited by inherent flaws in their design, such as unrepresentative datasets, faulty classifications, failure to identify new phenomena, and lack of context and meaning.

Bias and discrimination: AI tools can reflect biases of its developers that lead to faulty and potentially illegal outcomes. The report provides analysis as to why AI tools produce unfair or biased results. It also includes examples of instances in which AI tools resulted in discrimination against protected classes of people or overblocked content in ways that can serve to reduce freedom of expression.

Commercial surveillance incentives: AI tools can incentivize and enable invasive commercial surveillance and data extraction practices because these technologies require vast amounts of data to be developed, trained and used. Moreover, improving AI tools accuracy and performance can lead to more invasive forms of surveillance.

For more information, view the FTC report.