The social impact of ethical AI

Joe Rogers
Aug 5, 2019 · 3 min read
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Credit: Anna Boyle

The pace of tech seems to be moving faster than our culture, regulation and even brain cells can grapple with. Humanity is suffering from collective whiplash as our tech creations have suddenly confronted us with the need to clarify, and ultimately agree upon what it truly means to be human. Trying to get a consensus on ordering pizza (pineapple — friend or foe?) at a party takes UN-level negotiation and peace keeping skills, but unfortunately with this issue, the stakes are much higher.

It’s sobering coming to terms with just how drastically the internet has changed our lives in only 25 short years. Cutting edge tech like the printing press and fax machines unfolded over a much longer time period, unlike the internet, which snuck up on us like the Kool-Aid man. We haven’t had long to adjust to this life-altering tech, and our window to get AI and tech under ethical control is rapidly closing. In the big picture, the internet is a blip on our evolutionary radar, and we are just beginning to grasp the deep social impacts and complex ethical dilemmas that lie ahead.

To err, robotic

A robot can’t take the social temperature of the room, anticipate needs (most humans struggle with that) or understand the context of emotional labor. No programming language yet exists, to teach a computer how to comprehend the feeling of people laughing together or bonding through an exhilarating experience. AI can’t understand the depth of what makes us uniquely human.

What does it mean to be human?

According to Ezekiel Emanuel, bioethicist and former healthcare adviser to Barack Obama, people derive meaning in their lives from three things: “meaningful relationships, passionate interests, and meaningful work.” Anyone who has been laid off from a job knows the feelings of surprise, embarrassment and loss of identity that follows — all of which are completely normal. Robots aren’t phased by layoffs. Having compassion for people struggling to find work and finding solutions to address the spike in substance abuse and suicide is the very essence of our humanity. The preservation and consideration of human dignity in AI and technology is the human thing to do.

AI is actually an opportunity for people to find enrichment in alternate, more fulfilling career paths. With AI and technology advancing so quickly, we must examine what humans ultimately hope to gain and what we can eventually lose. For example, autonomous trucks are being blamed for destroying the truck-driving occupation, which coincidentally happens to be one of America’s deadliest. An increase in self-driving trucks means more repairs, charging stations and opportunities we haven’t even dreamt of yet, and more truckers returning safely to their families each day. When Henry Ford invented the car, he didn’t expect skiing to become a spinoff industry. The car created many new opportunities we never conceived possible — the self-driving car will likely be no different.

A rich new world of work can safely be explored if we get AI ethics under regulatory control before it gets away from us and becomes a dystopian disaster.


AI with a Conscience

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