Op-Ed: Conscience and Code

Navigating the moral compass of Artificial Intelligence by Raphaël Haddad, MEng ’24 (ME)


The following essay received an honorable mention in this year’s Berkeley MEng op-ed contest. In this contest, Master of Engineering students were challenged to communicate an Engineering-related topic they found interesting to a broad audience of technical and non-technical readers.

Note: As opinion pieces, the views shared here are neither an expression of nor endorsed by UC Berkeley or the Fung Institute.

Artificial Intelligence — Resembling Human Brain / deepak pal / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED


Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become deeply integrated into our daily lives, revolutionizing the way we engage with the world. From optimizing our social media experiences to transforming global supply chains, AI’s influence is profound and pervasive. It symbolizes human creativity’s zenith, showcasing our ability to innovate and solve complex problems. Yet, AI’s rapid progression brings with it a multitude of ethical considerations that are as intricate as they are vital. This essay aims to dissect these considerations, examining the risks and proposing a framework for ethical AI development and use, thus affirming our commitment to directing AI towards a beneficial and equitable trajectory.

Potential Risks: Navigating the Ethical Minefield of AI

The integration of AI into societal infrastructures introduces significant ethical concerns. The propensity of AI systems to propagate and even enhance existing biases is a profound challenge we face. Machine learning algorithms, forming the core of many AI implementations, often draw from data riddled with human prejudices or historical inequalities. If these biases go unaddressed, AI systems could unintentionally perpetuate them, influencing critical decisions such as employment, law enforcement, and financial lending in a discriminatory manner.

Furthermore, individual privacy is increasingly at stake in an AI-driven era. Algorithms designed to predict preferences and streamline daily activities also possess the ability to surveil our digital presence incessantly. This surveillance raises a conflict between the allure of personalized experiences and the fundamental right to privacy. These ethical dilemmas are not hypothetical; they have tangible consequences, as evidenced by numerous instances where AI systems have misidentified individuals from minority groups or facilitated gender- biased recruitment practices. The repercussions extend beyond the affected parties, casting a shadow of mistrust over technological advancements.

Case Studies: The Real-World Implications of AI Ethics

Exploring real-world examples, we encounter several instances where AI’s ethical shortcomings have come to light. A notorious case involved an AI system misclassifying Black individuals, igniting a discourse on racial bias in AI applications. Predictive algorithms in law enforcement and the judicial system have also been criticized for perpetuating historical biases, compromising fairness and transparency. Issues of privacy and surveillance have surged to the forefront as ‘smart’ technologies and data analytics provide profound yet potentially intrusive insights into personal behaviors. In the employment sector, AI’s influence is reshaping recruitment practices, offering the potential to minimize human bias but also risking embedding and obscuring those biases within the algorithms themselves. In the financial industry, automated systems have been found to mimic discriminatory lending practices, a phenomenon known as “redlining,” prompting calls for stricter ethical oversight in AI-powered fintech solutions. These examples highlight the unintended consequences of AI deployment, underlining the need for comprehensive ethical frameworks and diligent supervision to ensure AI’s beneficial impact on society while safeguarding individual rights. [1][2][3]

Ethical Guidelines: Forging the Path to Trustworthy AI

In response to the ethical quandaries presented by AI, various organizations have taken the initiative to formulate guidelines for responsible AI creation and utilization. The European Commission’s “Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI” delineates seven essential requirements for AI systems, promoting a blend of human values and technological innovation. UNESCO’s “Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence” echoes this sentiment, with an emphasis on human rights, inclusivity, and environmental sustainability. These guidelines represent a collective effort to align AI development with ethical standards, ensuring AI is constructed and deployed in a manner that benefits society as a whole. [4][5][6]

The Role of Regulation: Steering AI Towards the Common Good

The landscape of AI governance is swiftly evolving, with regulatory frameworks emerging to tackle the ethical challenges posed by AI’s rapid development. The European AI Act is pioneering comprehensive AI legislation, categorizing AI applications by risk and curbing the use of AI in contexts like mass surveillance. These regulations, complemented by UNESCO’s ethical standards, delineate a path for AI that prioritizes human rights and societal well- being, sebng a global standard for AI governance. [5][7]

Conclusion: The Imperative of Ethical AI

The journey through the intricate territory of AI ethics culminates in a pressing call to action. The tech community, lawmakers, and society at large must unite to champion the responsible use of AI. The path ahead is one of proactive governance, where ethical frameworks are not just theoretical constructs but are implemented with rigor and integrity. Developers must embed ethical considerations into the fabric of AI systems from the outset. Lawmakers should craK legislation that promotes transparency, fairness, and accountability. And the public must remain informed and engaged, ensuring that AI serves as an empowering tool rather than a divisive one. By prioritizing the ethical use of AI, we stand on the precipice of an era where technology not only innovates but elevates, ensuring the greater good is the nucleus around which AI revolves. The time to act is now, to harness AI’s transformative power while firmly anchoring it to our shared human values.


[1] h&ps://www.cs.ox.ac.uk/efai/towards-a-code-of-ethics-for-ar:ficial-intelligence/what-are-the-issues/ai-ethics-fails-case- studies/ , consulted in March 2024

[2] h&ps://ar5iv.labs.arxiv.org/html/2206.07635 , consulted in March 2024

[3] h&ps://news.harvard.edu/gaze&e/story/2020/10/ethical-concerns-mount-as-ai-takes-bigger-decision-making-role/ , consulted in March 2024

[4] h&ps://ec.europa.eu/futurium/en/ai-alliance-consulta:on.1.html , consulted in March 2024

[5] h&ps://www.unesco.org/en/ar:ficial-intelligence/recommenda:on-ethics , consulted in March 2024

[6] h&ps://www.nature.com/ar:cles/s42256-019-0088-2 , consulted in March 2024

[7] h&ps://www.technologyreview.com/2024/01/05/1086203/whats-next-ai-regula:on-2024/ , consulted in March 2024



Berkeley Master of Engineering
Berkeley Master of Engineering

Master of Engineering at UC Berkeley with a focus on leadership. Learn more about the program through our publication.