Alexandra van Huffelen didn’t know much about tech policy when she was appointed as the Netherlands’ first secretary of state for digital affairs in January. And yet, the social liberal politician could not have been in a better position to understand how high the stakes were for her government to get it right.
Van Huffelen joined the government as a junior finance minister in 2020 amid a major scandal — more than 25,000 people were wrongly accused of fraud to get child care benefits because of a faulty artificial intelligence algorithm used by Dutch tax authorities. After two years handling compensations for victims, Van Huffelen will now be on the hook for implementing new safeguards for the use of AI, including the creation of a new algorithm regulator under the country’s data protection authority.
After the Dutch parliament called for governments and companies to be forced to conduct and publicly release fundamental rights assessments of AI tools before using them, Van Huffelen and her government will be under heavy scrutiny at home to fight to beef up human rights protection in the European AI rulebook, known as the Artificial Intelligence Act.
But Van Huffelen will face have a tough time in Brussels, where many EU capitals would like to give as much latitude as possible to their law enforcement and immigration agencies wishing to use AI for facial recognition and emotion recognition software. Meanwhile, as a secretary of state, she will not have access to the weekly Cabinet meeting unless invited and will remain second only to the more powerful justice and home affairs and economy ministries, limiting what she can do.
What to watch for this year: To what extent will the Netherlands lead the way in advocating for strong human rights safeguards for the use of artificial intelligence?
What’s their superpower: Having seen firsthand the human impact of artificial intelligence.
Influence score: 17/30