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Between Technophobia and Technoutopia – Ethical Challenges of Artificial Intelligence

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Whether or not we accept it, know it or deny it, we now live on a new planet, one in which virtual space and the development and deployment of algorithms and artificial intelligence has an increasing importance.

Algorithms are processes made up of formulas to solve problems. With the advent of artificial intelligence a learning element is introduced into such processes that simulate human intelligence with the possibility of judgement and action and the potential that the results could contravene human values, laws and rights. There is an antinomy between technoutopia and technophobia, a problem that ethical reflection and action can and must solve to strike the balance between effective and beneficial progress and actual and potential harm.

Technology is useful for resolving various human limitations in medicine, healthcare, science and industry, communications and travel, space and art, life and society, business and finances. Technology has a role to play in enhancing life, not harming it, serving to develop more inclusive and environmentally sustainable societies. At the same time humankind is called upon to manage the disruptions brought by the digital revolution by bringing human values and ethical considerations into artificial intelligence (AI). The influence of AI is visible; we see how AI is used in houses, on highways and in smartphones, in e-commerce, banking, in markets influencing consumption patterns, detecting fraud, making medical diagnostics, transferring knowledge and so on.

Globally, we face both revolution and evolution at the same time. People’s fears grow even as technology and its euphoria for what it can do to better help humans increases AI dictates what we should buy next; the route to follow on the highway; which flight to take; which food to eat; the film to watch at the weekend; places to go to on holiday and even our credit rating! Mark the words: AI DICTATES TO INDIVIDUALS! On the structural side, AI influences stock market transactions, commodity prices via mass transportation, industrial internet, legal decisions and even political elections.

AI is modelled on humans, and there is no doubt that AI offers great potential to do what humans can do and to do it even better. AI could in principle imitate human creativity and make music, poetry and works of art, and with voice recognition, identification of movements resulting from the expression of different emotions through inductive science and logic come ever closer to imitating human behaviour. AI can and is being used to determine and predict sequential processes with the potential to improve upon that capacity to make them more predictable. At the same time, the fact that robots and machines run using AI technology can function independently means that humans could become in many cases irrelevant or unnecessary. This is a matter of grave concern to the field of ethics. With AI there is the danger that inequalities, discrimination and prejudices found among humans could be perpetuated and perhaps even exacerbated.

Can artificial intelligence replace human beings? Is technology devoid of human conscience and with the freedom to act not dangerous enough? Who is the owner of the wealth generated by the robots? Is a product more important than the inventor? These questions show why the human presence and action in the AI technology-chain is absolutely necessary to guide, improve upon and provide orientation towards right or wrong action from the inception of AI technology in the laboratory through to making it available for use. Ethicists need to be working hand in hand with investors, engineers and scientists as concepts are developed and beyond.

Guidelines for Ethical Artificial Intelligence

The challenge in the field of ethics, therefore, is to ensure that a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to the development of AI technology evolves and is ensured and maintained. Technology is a product of the human being, serving the purposes of improving human lives and preserving human dignity which is a key value identified by the United Nations and most of the world’s leading traditions, religions and civilisations. Critical also are the impacts of AI technology on our increasingly impoverished natural environment and to take action to manage and use these resources responsibly to prevent unnecessary and/or harmful depletion or exploitation.

The following guidelines are useful for the engagement of ethics with artificial intelligence technology:

  1. Use ethical principles to lay down solid foundations for AI, moving from big data to big values, making technology a good servant for humanity and for the planet, not their master.
  2. Bring technological humanism and ethics into AI, placing human concerns at the centre and people before objects and saving and improving lives over causing harm.
  3. Promote interdisciplinary studies around AI to evolve a holistic approach to questions of society, economics, science, law, engineering and technology and ethical questions.
  4. Ensure that ethics and ethicists are present and part of the AI design from the outset of the technology chain, so that human values are imbued into AI, not retro-actively but pro-actively.
  5. Prevent humans from being physically harmed by robots through intelligent integration of inductive logic and safety mechanisms.
  6. Draw up and enforce public policies on the development and use of AI with rules that ensure that human dignity and rights are preserved, for example, privileging the right to work in decisions on the development and use of AI applications that would affect jobs.
  7. Initiate explicit regulatory and legal decision-making policies that anticipate the ethical consequences of AI disruptions in production lines and supply chains.
  8. Prohibit and reduce the risk of military applications of AI and support peace through Global Ethical Governance Frameworks.
  9. Create a “Digital New Deal” that guarantees social equality in AI. For example gender equality, reduction of bias and prejudices against communities and peoples through the improvement of values and inclusiveness.

The challenge before humanity at this point in history with our many inventions is to think ethically, act ethically and to govern ethically.

Obiora Ike, Executive Director, Globethics.netObiora Ike
Globethics.net Executive Director