As AI proliferates, and governments attempt to catch up in structure and law to the fast growing technology, AI Ethics has emerged as a critical topic that everyone should be aware of. So, what is AI Ethics and why does it matter?
What is AI Ethics?
Definitions vary, but in general, AI Ethics is the term given to a broad collection of considerations for responsible AI that combines safety, security, human concerns and environmental considerations. Some areas of AI Ethics include:
- Avoiding AI Bias. Since AIs learn from data, poorly constructed AIs can (and do) demonstrate bias against poorly represented subsets of the data. In particular, AIs that are not well trained can demonstrate bias against minorities and underrepresented groups. Famous cases of bias, such as in hiring tools and in chatbots, have embarrassed famous corporate brands and created legal risk.
- AI and Privacy. AI relies on information to learn from. A significant fraction of this information comes from users. Not all users are aware of what information is being gathered about them and how it is being used to make decisions that affect them. Even today, everything from internet searches to online purchases to social media comments can be used to track, identify, and personalize experiences for users. While this can be positive (such as an AI recommending a product a user may want), it can also result in unexpected bias (such as some offers being provided to some consumers and not others).
- Avoiding AI mistakes. Poorly constructed AIs can make mistakes which can lead to anything from loss of revenue to death. Adequate testing is required to ensure that AIs do not pose a risk to humans or to their environments.
- Managing AI environmental impact. AI models are getting larger every day, with recent models being as large as over a trillion parameters each. These large models consume a significant amount of energy to train – making AI a large resource consumer. Researchers are developing techniques for energy efficient AIs that balance performance and energy efficiency.
Why does it matter?
Experience with AI has demonstrated that following good AI Ethics is not just responsible behavior, it is required to get good business value out of AI. Ethics issues can pose business risk such as product failures, legal issues, brand damage and more.
Countries, and even cities and counties, are taking their own approaches to AI Ethics. This implies that, as a business, one needs to be aware of AI regulations at the country and even city level. Two example prominent AI related regulations are the “Right to Explanation” clause in the EU General Data Protection Regulations and the relevant portions of the California Consumer Privacy Act. At a more local level, cities in the US are making decisions about the use of algorithms, particularly those used in law enforcement. One of the largest legislative efforts in AI is the upcoming AI Act in the European Union.
As individuals from all walks of life start seeing AI in their lives and in their jobs, AI Ethics becomes a critical part of AI literacy for most people. AI Ethics is now being taught in high school and middle school as well as in Responsible AI practices in professional business courses. As laws like the AI Act become more prevalent, one can expect AI Ethics knowledge to become mainstream.