Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

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  • 2:28 Ethics, AI and Economics
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Instructor: David Whitsett

David has taught computer applications, computer fundamentals, computer networking, and marketing at the college level. He has a MBA in marketing.

Developing machines that think raises ethical questions about the machines and the people that create them. In this lesson, we'll discuss ethics as they apply to artificial intelligence and why this is a concern that's not just part of science fiction.

Ethics and Artificial Intelligence

For years, science fiction has described scenarios where robots, machines, or computers take over the world. We make them too smart and they outsmart us. Or, we make them with a flaw that causes unforeseen damage. There are other concerns that may not be as spectacular or dramatic but also require discussion.

Ethics, which are moral principles guiding behavior, apply to science and the behavior of scientists alike. Artificial intelligence (AI) is simply defined as creating machines with human-like intelligence. We can further develop the definition to describe machines that do things that would normally require human intelligence - things such as speech recognition, visual perception, and decision making. The behavior of the scientists creating these machines should be subject to ethical concerns. The behavior of the machines themselves can also have ethical consequences.

In science fiction movies and literature, we hear the term singularity. This has come to represent the time when machines are more intelligent than their human creators and there is a runaway growth of machines. The worry is that machines will use their advantages over humans for dominance and control.

Another interesting thought - if we create a machine with intelligence greater than our own, should we be concerned with that machine's feelings, or even its legal status as an individual? At what point will a machine have a moral status, meaning that it can be wronged in some way? A pebble has no moral status but would a robot with AI?

How do we guard against machines taking actions that produce unintended consequences? If we ask a machine to perform a task and the machine doesn't fully understand the context of the request, something unintended may happen. For example, ask a computer to find a way to eradicate heart disease in humans and the answer may come back 'kill all humans.' This solves the problem but also kills humans - oops.

AI machines use algorithms (a set of sequential rules to be followed in problem-solving) created by humans, so if the creator has any inherent biases or is judgmental in some way, those biases can be built into the machine. Imagine a machine used to predict criminal behavior that includes the creator's bias against a particular race. That wouldn't be fair or neutral.

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