Artificial Intelligence and CSOs: First Things to Know

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What are the benefits and risks of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)? Independent Sector’s Manuel Gomez touches on both—and AI’s evolving regulation.

AI represents a huge group of technological developments. On one hand, some of its applications bring clear benefits to nonprofits in the form of automation and tools that help compose emails, manage donor relations, synthesize meetings, process data, prepare reports, streamline media production, provide content and analyze communications channels. Chat GPT, for example, helps a small staff with data-based decision making and frees up limited time and resources.

On the other hand, CSOs face the same AI risks as other sectors such as job losses, fake content and propaganda, surveillance and intellectual property. Neutrality and transparency are additional concerns: the data used to train AI may contain implicit biases of its creators and it’s not easy to know when the tools are being used. Another, broader risk is that AI can be used to stifle civil society. However, the most immediate, looming issue for CSOs related to AI may be data privacy—and regulation is in flux as governments seek to integrate AI concerns into data privacy regulations.

In Europe, for example, the GDPR (general data protection regulation) may soon be updated to address AI. In the US, the “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights” aims to address AI security issues, algorithmic discrimination and data privacy. It requires explicit declaration of when AI is being used and offering of human alternative. Also, states are starting to regulate AI since the non passage of the 2022 American Data Privacy and Protection Act (though it may be re-introduced). Like the GDPR, the Act would regulate how nonprofits, as well as companies, handle personal data.

Finally, even as AI poses threats to CSOs, it can also make cybersecurity more effective in general, as machine learning algorithms can identify attacks as they occur. It’s to every organization's advantage to stay updated on these trends. For guidance on current cybersecurity for CSOs, see our list of ten best practices.

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