Although artificial intelligence (AI) has been at play in our everyday lives for years, the recent advancements in generative AI have sparked immense interest – as well as concern and anxiety – about its current and potential near-term impacts. The transformative power of generative AI has captured the public imagination and has begun to filter into the questions and requests the International Republican Institute (IRI) receives from its democratic partners around the world. Civil society, policymakers, activists and more have started coming to IRI for guidance on what generative AI means for their work and how it might impact their societies and systems of governance.
In response, IRI’s Technology and Democracy Practice launched a Generative AI and Democracy Working Group, convening experts from around the globe to discuss current and near-term impacts of generative AI on democracies, with a specific focus on trends in the global majority, including Ecuador. The working group, launched in November 2023, convenes civil society, activists, industry, and policy advisors to discuss crosscutting concerns and opportunities. The working group will conclude with the release of a white paper to guide IRI partners – especially civil society and decisionmakers – in better understanding and navigating generative AI to minimize harms and maximize benefits to democracy.
To capture existing thought on this topic and to inform working group discussions, the Technology and Democracy Practice has been speaking with leaders around the world about how they’re thinking about AI, including their hopes, concerns and how it’s being used in their country already. IRI was fortunate to speak with Ecuador’s Former Minister of Telecommunications in Ecuador, Vianna Maino, about AI and have included below a lightly edited snippet from the conversation to share how Ecuador is approaching this evolving tool.1
Q: In your role as Minister of Telecommunications in Ecuador, have you seen any positive applications for AI to improve and strengthen democratic societies and democratic governance?
A: In Ecuador, we recognize that connectivity is a human right, and, in the 30 months of the administration I served, we took giant steps to prepare the country with connectivity and technology. I want to highlight how the eruption of generative AI has revolutionized the way we approach our workflows and how it is shaping the future of our industries.
In Ecuador, we’ve seen it used to improve healthcare by streamlining online appointment processes and analyzing genetic and medical data to personalize treatment for patients. In the area of security, we have an emergency call answering and dispatch system that has integrated AI, and we’re using it for environmental protection as well. In the Galapagos Islands, a protected area for its biodiversity, we use artificial intelligence in data analysis and incident prediction to control the infrastructural development, as well as improve city administration for the benefit of locals and tourists. These are just a few of the ways AI is already being applied to strengthen our governance and society here.
Q: What harms are you most concerned about in terms of unwanted impacts from AI?
A: There is much excitement, but also a natural fear. There are justified doubts and questions about the scope of this technology. There are fears that technology could supplant human interaction, which generates fear and distrust, as well as concerns around the protection of personal data. More sophisticated cyberattacks can be generated through AI as well. We have a project, called the Diagnosis on AI in Ecuador, to highlight and understand areas where AI is being used – this will be an ongoing challenge.
Optimizing for the benefits of generative AI requires techniques and tools to help preserve privacy, which is very important in the digital world, as well as to avoid increasing discrimination of any kind and abuses in the justice system, health care and housing.
Q: On that note, as you look to the near-term future, how are you thinking about AI’s evolution and what needs to be done to make sure it works for rather than against democracy?
A: Looking to the future, we must establish guidelines to defend consumers, patients, and students; to support workers to prevent them from losing their jobs due to this technology; as well as helping to promote innovation and competition. Ecuador still needs a complete and unified legal framework on cybersecurity as well as artificial intelligence to establish needed guardrails.
Generative AI represents a great generational and momentous change, and it’s critical that society, industry and regulators work together to ensure that artificial intelligence is used responsibly and beneficially. The future of technology and telecommunications is promising, but its success will depend largely on how we manage its challenges and opportunities equitably and ethically.
Stay tuned for more snippets like these as IRI continues discussions on the impact of generative AI on democracy, focusing specifically on perspectives from the global majority. If you have any questions or desires for updates on what IRI is doing in this space, please reach out to Amanda Zink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Vianna Maino is an Ecuadorian lawyer. She is a senior legal specialist with extensive experience in advising public and private entities and highly complex financial structures. Ms. Maino holds a law degree from the Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil (1990-1996) and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, with a specialization in International Business from Universidad Santa María de Chile (1997-1998), and a Doctorate in Jurisprudence (2003-2005). In addition, she has participated in international forums and programs such as the Women’s Forum, Fellowship Program at Harvard Business School, and the Program on Strategies for Effective Implementation of Public-Private Partnerships at Harvard Kennedy School. She served as Minister of Telecommunications and Information Society in the Republic of Ecuador during the term of former President Guillermo Lasso.Top