There’s No Such Thing As ‘Ethical A.I.’
Technologists believe the ethical challenges of A.I. can be solved with code, but the challenges are far more complex
Artificial intelligence should treat all people fairly, empower everyone, perform reliably and safely, be understandable, be secure and respect privacy, and have algorithmic accountability. It should be aligned with existing human values, be explainable, be fair, and respect user data rights. It should be used for socially beneficial purposes, and always remain under meaningful human control. Got that? Good.
These are some of the high-level headings under which Microsoft, IBM, and Google-owned DeepMind respectively set out their ethical principles for the development and deployment of A.I. They’re also, pretty much by definition, A Good Thing. Anything that insists upon technology’s weighty real-world repercussions — and its creators’ responsibilities towards these — is surely welcome in an age when automated systems are implicated in every facet of human existence.
And yet, when it comes to the ways in which A.I. codes of ethics are discussed, a troubling tendency is at work even as the world wakes up to the field’s significance. This is the belief that A.I. codes are recipes for automating ethics itself; and that once a broad consensus around such codes has been achieved, the problem of determining an ethically positive future direction for computer code will have begun to be solved.
There’s no such thing as a single set of ethical principles that can be rationally justified in a way that every rational being will agree to.
What’s wrong with this view? To quote an article in Nature Machine Intelligence from September 2019, while there is “a global convergence emerging around five ethical principles (transparency, justice and fairness, nonmaleficence, responsibility, and privacy),” what precisely these principles mean is quite another matter. There remains “substantive divergence in relation to how these principles are interpreted, why they are deemed important, what issue, domain, or actors they pertain to, and how they should be implemented.” Ethical codes, in other…