The pace of artificial intelligence (AI) demands that we focus on the ethics of AI as preemptively as possible. At the 2017 Neural Information Processing Systems conference, Kate Crawford, a Distinguished Research Professor at New York University, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New York, and a Visiting Professor at the MIT Media Lab, gave a keynote urging that we make a significant effort to address emerging ethical issues that modern AI presents.  

Many of these problems have already surfaced; like a photo app that did not recognize African Americans as humans or, even more destructive, AI risk scores that influence criminal sentencing based on race. Part of the promise of AI is that it carries on, thinking for itself and seeing what we cannot see, enhancing our ability to automate more sophisticated tasks that require more expertise from humans. These same methods, however, make it harder to identify problems before launch or fix problems once they arise. Addressing these now may avoid more future product mishaps, but, more importantly, will help us ensure that we do not pass on our own societal biases, thus stopping systemic racism and bias from infecting new technology.  

On a larger scale, taking AI ethics seriously today may be critical to ensuring that we do not create an AI of mass destruction tomorrow. Efforts to encourage diversity, like associations and workshops for women and African Americans in tech, may help bring in new perspectives, cautions, and questions, which is critical as AI advances.  

Researchers, developers, and customers are all responsible for the technology they develop and should speak up now or else be prepared to be saboteurs later. Crawford referenced the story of “Rene Carmille, who sabotaged tabulating machines used by the Nazis to track French Jews” as an example of our need to be activists in this space to avoid technology that harms society more than it helps.  

Technological advancements today, however, are faster-paced and created in highly active networks of researchers – much more so than those of WWII. Current context requires that we take up this cause urgently and universally – every researcher of AI, software developer, sociologist, politician, philosopher, every citizen must speak up to consciously and purposefully shape the ethical advancement of artificial intelligence. 

Read the full article on Wired, here: https://www.wired.com/story/artificial-intelligence-seeks-an-ethical-conscience/