Artificially intelligent machines are unlikely to take over the world anytime soon, but as A.I. technology advances, there are issues to be addressed. A.I. has the near-term potential to impact jobs, transportation and warfare, for example. Five of the world’s largest tech companies, including Google parent company Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft, have now come together to develop a standard of ethics for artificial intelligence.
Recent years have seen rapid advances, with A.I. finding its way into self-driving cars and machines capable of understanding speech, like Amazon’s Echo, as well as weapons systems. It is not yet known exactly what the unnamed industry group will do, but according to the New York Times, their intention is to “ensure that A.I. research is focused on benefiting people, not hurting them”.
The need to address the issue of ethics in A.I. is stressed by a report from a Stanford University group funded by Eric Horvitz, Technical Fellow & Managing Director of Microsoft Research, who is one of the technology executives in the industry group. It lays out a plan for producing a detailed report on the impact of A.I. on society every five years for the next century.
The tech industry is also mindful of getting out in front of government regulators, by way of self-policing. “We’re not saying that there should be no regulation”, said Peter Stone of the University of Texas and an author of the Stanford report. “We’re saying that there is a right way and a wrong way.” One right way, says the report, is to work on developing A.I. expertise within the government.
“There is a role for government and we respect that”, said David Kenny, General Manager of IBM Watson, the company’s artificial intelligence division. The quandary, Kenny says, is that “a lot of times policies lag the technologies.”
Meanwhile on America’s opposite coast, Reid Hoffman, a LinkedIn founder, is in talks with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab concerning a project to explore the social and economic impacts of artificial intelligence. Both the MIT project and the Silicon Valley partnership want to link A.I. advances more closely to social and economic policy and even, as MIT has noted, look at designing new technology with “society in the loop.”
“The key thing that I would point out is computer scientists have not been good at interacting with the social scientists and the philosophers”, said Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab. “What we want to do is support and reinforce the social scientists who are doing research which will play a role in setting policies.”