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We need to talk about AI – Where do we go from here? 13.01.17

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a topic that continues to make big waves in the news. Whether it’s an insurance firm replacing employees with IBM’s Watson Explorer, or a programme that can beat humans in a death match on the classic video game Doom, the technology is advancing and people are taking notice.

As we continue to make progress with AI and create machines that are more self-aware, concerns and questions are being raised about the moral and ethical implications of the technology. Just this week the founders of LinkedIn and eBay announced that they were donating $10m each to the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, which supports a cross-section of AI ethics and governance projects and activities.

This is a hefty bit of money and a cynic could argue that this is a PR stunt to demonstrate their commitment to ethical technology practices. After all, LinkedIn and eBay are organisations that benefit massively from AI developments and will want to show that they can be trusted when using the technology.

However, those of a less critical nature might think that is an example of how even the most powerful people in technology are concerned about the potential that AI has to create moral and ethical issues going forward.

As well as this, yesterday MEPs called for the adoption of comprehensive rules for how humans will interact with artificial intelligence and robots. This shows at AI isn’t just a corporate concern, but a governmental one as well.

Let’s be honest, when most of us think of artificial intelligence and self-aware technology, our minds think back to The Terminator and everything becomes very dystopian. Fortunately, we haven’t found ourselves in this situation yet, but as AI becomes more prominent there will be much to consider about its capabilities and implications for society.

This is why groups such as the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund are going to be so important in the future. More and more questions are going to be raised about where we draw the line with AI. How much of our lives are we going to allow it to dictate and how much should we indoctrinate the technology into society?

Looking at what areas the group is going to be funding begs the question as to how far we need to go to consider the moral implications of AI. MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, who is overseeing the fund’s use, discussed issues such as making sure that machines don’t perpetuate and amplify the same human biases that plague society and how society will co-evolve with this technology. These are obvious implications of AI and do need to be discussed, but do we need to delve into deeper ethical realms?

Look at the example I gave at the beginning of this piece of an insurance firm replacing staff with AI. Does this not have ethical implications too? Do companies have any responsibility to their workforce and if not what is this going to mean for the workforce as a whole?

It looks like if we as a society continue to become more automated, this may leave a continuously growing population with fewer jobs. This isn’t sustainable if we continue using the current system we have. If we want AI to become more prominent we are going to have to consider how our society works. For example, if there’s going to be a far smaller workforce in the future, how do we ensure people have enough money to survive? Will providing a basic income to our societies become a must if we are to ensure people are able to live? These are big ethical questions that we cannot avoid going forward.

It’s good to see the ethics of AI is coming to the forefront and that big players in the industry are helping to address these issues. However, we can’t simply draw the line at ensuring the technology doesn’t display human bias and can be kept in control. Our societies are going to be massively affected by AI and we need to consider how in the 21st Century we as a civilisation are going to adapt to ensure that we have the means to remain relevant. We live in interesting times and the technological revolution is going to play a big part in this, let’s just hope it’s the right part.

If you have any questions about this blog please email tom.harvey@aprilsixproof.com