Artificial Intelligence has the potential to transform every industry in the world by allowing us to leverage its powerful capabilities in innovative ways. Large companies like Amazon have already begun to utilize AI-powered robots to make their shipping warehouses more efficient, and industries like hospitality and finance are using AI-powered technology like chatbots to help bring better service to their customers. AI’s analytical capabilities make it easier to process and draw insight from large amounts of data than ever before, allowing companies to use the data they collect more effectively. But with any advancement in technology comes concerns about the ethicality of the existence and deployment of said technology. To date, there are not many policies in place to regulate the way that Artificial intelligence is used, and as it becomes more integrated into our everyday lives, its ethical use has become a point of concern for technology ethicists everywhere. When we think about the ethics of AI, we must take into consideration robot rights, human rights and dignity, and transparency and accountability, among other things.
Most of us are familiar with the Hollywood trope of the sentient AI being coming into conflict with humanity (think The Terminator or I, Robot). It’s a question that humanity has had for a while now: “What rights is a sentient being (be it an artificial one) entitled to in the human world?” For the most part, AI is not yet capable of forming thoughts independent of human influence, but as technology progresses, it may one day be possible to build an AI that functions and thinks as a full human does. In that scenario, AI would cease to be just a tool for us to use and questions about its obligation to serve humanity would be inevitable. If we believe in the philosophy of “sentientism,” then we must grant consideration towards robot rights as we do towards the rights of humans and non-human animals. Many believe that producing an AI that capable is dangerous and immoral for both humanity and the machine, putting an undue burden on both. As we advance our technology, we must be cognizant of its impact on humanity as well as on the technology itself.
Human Rights and Dignity
AI has allowed many industries to innovate the way they do business, including allowing them to produce more and spend less. In many industries, robots are even replacing human labor, with AI being used to monitor work progress and outcomes. Though AI can certainly allow businesses to operate more efficiently, its adoption into standard business practices should not be taken lightly, particularly when it comes to its impact on human labor. There are many people whose jobs have been affected by the implementation of new technology. This is nothing new. New technology will inevitably change industries. However, the concern comes in when entire industries of work become obsolete and thousands if not millions of people are left out of work with no alternatives. As we advance as a society, we also have an obligation to make sure that potential risks to human rights and dignity are mitigated. It may be inevitable that many industries will soon become mostly or fully automated, and in that case, it is important that the human beings who are put out of work because of this are still taken care of and able to receive stable work. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness mean being able to live with dignity. It means no human is obsolete.
Transparency and Accountability
An AI-powered machine can be programmed to process data much faster and with far less error than a human being, making it a valuable tool in data collection and evaluation. This data can be leveraged to make better business decisions and create better customer service. It can also be used to advance research and medicine. But it should be concerning to all of us that there is not much regulation on the type of information that companies can collect on us, nor is there much policy around transparency and disclosure of the algorithms utilized to collect this data. Just as AI can be used in innovative ways, it can also be used in ways that are biased and even destructive. There have already been cases of AI bias that have been brought to light in recent years. Amazon is one of the biggest companies to have terminated the use of their AI recruiting tool after it was discovered that the tool had been programmed in a way that favored white men over people of color and women, even if all groups possessed identical skillsets. The public has a right to know just how the algorithms that are shaping our lives and our futures work. Though some believe AI could help us push beyond societal bias, it is clear that human biases still have a great influence on our technology. This can become dangerous when this technology is used to foment anger and resentment in certain populations or fear and discouragement in others. AI-powered bots have already been used to influence politics on popular social media sites. We as a society have an obligation to make sure this technology is not being used for nefarious purposes. This means full transparency around the creation of new AI-powered systems, as well as holding companies accountable for the way the technology is used on their platforms.
So How do We Use AI Ethically?
The field of artificial intelligence is still very new, and its capabilities are innumerous. For companies that wish to utilize AI in their business practices, it is imperative that they do so using an ethical framework. Companies dealing with personal data usually have some form of ethics board in place to mitigate risk and make sure that the company is adhering to the standards set by the company and the government. Companies can expand this resource to create a framework that centers around the use of ethical AI and the importance of compliance with privacy laws and ethical behavior when using that technology. An ethics board can help set the tone for the rest of the company to behave in both legal and ethical manners when utilizing AI. The ethical framework that businesses use should be tailored to the industry in which they occupy in order to better detect the specific issues that each industry faces when using the technology. Businesses can also look for inspiration in industries that have, for the most part, implemented and followed through with the ethical standards that they set for themselves.
Maria is a writer at Enki Tech, a Downtown Santa Monica technology company that specializes in the development of high-quality, user friendly software, web platforms and mobile apps.