The Ethics of AI: Avoiding Science Fiction Disaster

May 1st, 2018 by admin

The future of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is incredible, yet frightening. The potential uses are limitless, and could lead to extremely helpful solutions. As the demand for AI increases and the technology advances, we are approaching a crossroads. Though the future is exciting, it comes along with some tricky ethical questions, many of which we cannot yet answer. When we talk about the ethics of AI, we are not referring to an Arnold-Schwarzenegger-taking-on-Skynet kind of situation (for the most part); most applications of AI today are for civil industrial purposes of automation. This may not be as exciting or sensational, but they bring up some interesting and important questions. A well-known example of this technology can be seen in the development of self-driving cars. AI technology learns, and then controls the car to drive in a growing number of situations, and eventually share the road with human drivers. It’s easy to think of the potential benefits of this technology being successfully implemented, such as an eliminated need for a cab driver, a reduction in accidents, and the convenience of enjoying the ride as a passenger, but quickly, difficult questions to answer emerge. How would this affect the workers of the transportation industry? Who is responsible in an accident involving a self-driving car? In cases where a collision is inevitable, who does the computer try to save? These examples reflect the complicated nature of the conversations to be had and decisions to be made regarding AI. For many years, questions like these were much easier to ignore, but as the technology becomes more powerful and more available to the public, the many ethical situations and conundrums that AI could bring have become more noticeable. The United States government has been funding the development of AI for decades now. The White House released reports in December 2016 outlining plans to further the research and development of AI. They list the following strategies: “Invest in and develop AI for its many benefits…Educate and train Americans for jobs of the future…[and] Aid workers in the transition and empower workers to ensure broadly shared growth”. The White House has not yet talked about how the AI industry would be regulated, but have published many detailed many guidelines that they hope to follow going forward. The government is not the only entity with influence regarding AI however; many of the world’s tech giants have come together to form an AI ethics committee. The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society (catchy title!), consists of representatives from Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and IBM. The goal of the partnership is to create more discussion regarding AI and ethics that cross industry borders. The committee hopes to act as a bridge between researchers, concerned civilians and government. How influential and effective this group will be remains to be seen, but the efforts are being made and the issues are being discussed. This story of ethical dilemmas will continue to be told as the government, committees and consumers learn more about the power and limitations of this rapidly evolving technology.   Kender Ostlund

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