Social responsibility and ethics in artificial intelligence

18 Dec 2017 09:00h - 10:30h

Event report

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This session, moderated by Dr Urs Gasser, Executive Director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School, featured discussions on social responsibility and ethics in artificial intelligence (AI). Breakthroughs in AI are transforming digital society, greatly improving labour productivity, but also raising emerging issues concerning employment, the digital divide, privacy, law, and regulation.

Professor Yi Ma of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California at Berkeley initiated the session by introducing the combination of factors that led to the development of AI across the world, and in particular in China. AI is the result of great improvements in the field of computing power, and the availability of datasets and algorithms. China is one of the leaders in the field of research on AI, in particular regarding software and machine-learning applications. The Chinese government’s investment in AI has now reached the magnitude of the investments in the USA and suggests a future change in the balance between the USA and China in this field. More and more companies are now using AI. The current period represents the beginning of a new era, as the years to come will witness a wide deployment of AI technology.

Ms Karen McCabe, Senior Director of Technology Policy and International Affairs at ‎IEEE, highlighted the importance of focusing on the impact of AI on human beings. AI often has a negative connotation, which demonstrates the need for creating trust. AI may impact jobs, the economic livelihoods of people, and their perceptions. As a result, there needs to be a greater understanding regarding the exponential growth in the use of data, to avoid the discomfort people may feel towards AI. Education and capacity building are fundamental to this effort, in particular since there may be a gap between education systems and the technologies that are developed.

Mr Irakli Beridze, Senior Strategy and Policy Advisor at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), mentioned the importance of gathering all relevant stakeholders to the table when discussing social responsibility and the impact of AI. Berizde indicated that the United Nations has recently launched a new Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, based in the Netherlands, aiming at tackling these issues. AI has the potential to support all of the sustainable development goals (SDG), in particular regarding health and poverty. The understanding of AI in developing countries is limited, and there needs to be more engagement between large and small countries to ensure these technologies benefit all.

Ms Ping Lang, Deputy Director of International Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, presented China’s policy on AI and its social impact. The digital revolution is a main focus for the Chinese government, as emphasised by recent initiatives such as China’s Internet Plus strategy. In July, the Chinese government also issued the next generation AI plan, aiming to further advance developments in this field. AI improves the productivity of the economy but also represents a challenge as machines come into our lives. The fear of machines dominating humans could result in a form of moral panic, which needs to be dealt with.

Ms Danit Gal, a Yenching Scholar at Peking University and International Strategic Advisor to the iCenter at Tsinghua University, insisted that AI represents a big opportunity for developing countries. This technology could serve billions of people, thus the problem is to empower smaller countries. Gal argued that we are currently stuck in a zero-sum game mindset, with opposition between the USA and China. The solution would be to move away from this mentality and increase the sharing of AI around the world. There is a great misunderstanding of what the technology is now, and what it could become in the future. To respond to the fears related to the social implications of AI, there needs to be greater engagement with the actors developing these technologies, since they involve a human outcome.

By Clément Perarnaud