Future of Work News

The Complex Ethical and Social Responsibilities Surrounding AI


The rise and development of AI technologies is paving the way for the workplace of the future, full of productivity benefits and insightful, actionable intelligence. Of course, AI also has a dark side and its proliferation cannot be discussed without serious consideration of its ethical ramifications.

According to Dr. Safiya Noble, an author and researcher specializing in digital media and visual and digital commercial culture, AI is the next human rights issue of the 21st century. “Artificial intelligence is a social construction and we have only begun to see the consequences of its mediation — from racially biased sentencing in U.S. courtrooms, to facial recognition and profiling in law enforcement technologies, to machine-based discrimination in AI experiments,” wrote Noble in a blog post. “The right to be protected from artificial intelligence and deep machine learning will become a human rights issue in the 21st century. We need to engage more critically in how these technologies will only further discrimination and oppression around the world.”

A report issued last month from the Stanford University Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence claims that underfunding of AI is a threat to U.S. global leadership and a national emergency in the making. The report, which calls on the U.S. government to make a $120 billion investment in the country’s AI ecosystem over the next 10 years, warns of potential problems if AI is not properly contained and controlled.

“If guided properly, the age of AI could usher in an era of productivity and prosperity for all,” states the report. ”However, if we don’t harness it responsibly and share the gains equitably, it will lead to greater concentrations of wealth and power for the elite few who usher in this new age — and poverty, powerlessness and a lost sense of purpose for the global majority. The potential financial advantages of AI are so great, and the chasm between AI haves and have-nots so deep, that the global economic balance as we know it could be rocked by a series of catastrophic tectonic shifts.”

From a demographic point of view, AI has a “white guy problem” according to Kate Crawford, director of the AI Now Institute. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that U.S. cities will no longer have a racial majority by 2030, and as of now the majority of the U.S. workforce is comprised of people of color, for the first time in history. And yet, according to VentureBeat, AI companies lack racial and gender diversity. At leading AI technology companies Facebook and Google, for example, only 15 percent and 10 percent of research staff, respectively, are women. And a mere 18 percent of research published at major AI conferences is authored by women.

Fortunately, AI technologies are still being developed and time remains for companies and researchers to make ethically and socially responsible decisions. As more attention is given to how AI is being developed in a complex, human-centric society, people have an opportunity to shape and define it to benefit the greatest number of humans instead of the greatest number of corporations.

For more discussion about the evolution of AI, its inherent ethical challenges, and its place within the workplace of the future, TMC is hosting its Future of Work Expo in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The event, which will take place from February 12-14, 2020, will explore how AI and machine learning technologies are being used for throughout a host of vertical markets and are rapidly shaping the future workplace.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Future of Work Contributor

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