The Exploration of Ethics in Artificial Intelligence

There is no avoiding the fact that artificial intelligence will play a role in the future of global economics and commerce. With major players, such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon, all investing heavily in the development of the capacity to use artificial intelligence to better serve their consumer bases, it is no longer a question of whether artificial intelligence has a place in the global economy, but how will such a magnificent force been effectively managed.

With Donald Trump being freshly sworn in a the 45 president of the United States, he faces certain challenges that few before him have faced, and regardless of what side of the political spectrum individuals may stand on, the concern surrounding the ethics associated with artificial intelligence is significant — to say the least. Artificial intelligence has made a substantial amount of progress over the last couple of decades, and now it seems that the next major frontier and hurdle for AI will be ethics. Now the question on many minds is: Will President Trump be able to deliver in this area?

AI is currently in a position in which it has one foot in its fictional past, while the other has been firmly planted on the new frontier of tech innovations and real science. It is this unique positioning that has allowed AI to assume a powerfully unique position within our cultural imagination. There are many who are wondering whether we will so enter a world in which machines will be equally as smart, or even smarter than the humans that operate them. While many may have been able to argue against such as reality just 10 to 15 years ago, the argument is being overwhelmed by certain realities, including the fact that AI was able to predict the outcome of the most recent presidential election, with greater efficacy than many of the expert analysts — leaving many to postulate that maybe we are much further along that we initially thought.

It was just this past October, that former President Obama hosted the White House Frontiers Conference, a global technologies conference centered on addressing the latest technologies that would be featured in the November issue of Wired, and issue that was guest edited by President Obama. When considering the idea that the U.S. was founded by men who were considered to be the innovators of their time, it welcomes the idea that we, as a nation of innovators, are coming full circle — having the then current president of the nation speak so vividly of the upcoming wave of next-generation technology. The next generation technology in question is what many hope will continue to position the U.S. at the forefront of global innovation. When it is all placed front and center, artificial intelligence is at the heart of this discussion.

Since that moment of clarity at the end of last year, a lot has transpired. The political climate and landscape have changed. At current, there is a huge elephant in the room — Donald Trump — who is yet to establish a clear-cut policy surrounding the ethics of artificial intelligence.

Of course, there are some who might argue the point made by Obama that this is the best time to be alive; however, few can argue, with any authenticity, that the pace in which technology is being developed and implemented is absolutely remarkable. Additionally, there is no legitimate reason to suspect that this growth will experience any significant slowing over the next four years. However, what is uncertain is the role that the current administration will play in addressing the issue of ethics — the next huge hurdle standing in front of artificial intelligence.

When examining the current reality, as far as AI is concerned, we must be willing to admit that we have only witnessed the tip of the iceberg. Technology such as credit card fraud prediction technology, self-driving cars and virtual assistants only provide a glimpse into what AI has to offer. Many of these advancements have come so suddenly, and matter-of-factly that we have lost much of the amazement of what we already have at our disposal. Consider, for a moment, the fact that most of us have the capacity to vocally ask our phone for arbitrary directions, while a self-driving vehicle — powered by AI & Uber — take control over the trip, and you now may be able to grasp the possibilities that lie ahead. We also currently have the capacity to receive a real time email alert informing us that our credit card might have been hacked — through the use learning algorithms.

Because of the almost limitless potential of learning algorithms that support AI, it is a foregone conclusion that the federal government will have to intervene at some point, in order to address the possibility of ethical transgressions. The previous administration, in forethought, issued a statement that suggested that while it is vital to invest in the development of AI, we also have a responsibility to consider the ethics that will fuel its growth. For instance, what is the ethical responsibility in regulating automated cars in a manner that will promote and ensure public safety? Is there a certain level of increase casualties that will be considered acceptable as a tradeoff for having access to automated vehicles? This is just a couple of the questions that will have to be answered moving forward.

Another question that has a lot of people in the private and political sectors concerned is the manner in which AI will impact the job market for humans. As machines are able to do more, people are required to do less — minimizing the need for manual labor. Proponents of AI would argue that a certain part of the population will have to retrain in skill sets that will support the new technology-driven global economy, allowing them to remain viably employable. While this new technology may make some people uncomfortable, it is extremely difficult to argue with the idea of companies developing the capacity to be more efficient in the services and products they provide. Now, we simply have to figure out how to make all of this work in a manner that is ethically acceptable.

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