AI ethics must be informed by the real world, not science fiction
Uninformed politicians will drive national economies into the ground if they regulate AI to death.
by Simon Robinson, Chief Executive Officer, Level cognitive automation
Fact vs Fiction
Many of the guiding principles being proposed around the world to underpin the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) appear to come straight from the pages of an Isaac Asimov novel.
They betray a fundamental lack of understanding of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, have little to do with the real world of cognitive technology, and play into popular myths about AI, fanning the flames of mistrust.
In a business context, AI is critical to a nation’s ability to remain globally competitive. Of course, consumers need protection, but that is a different ballgame. Regulations required to safeguard the consumer environment are not only irrelevant for the business environment but will actively strangle economic growth.
That fact is clearly understood by economies such as the USA and China which have more liberal regulatory environments, but seems lost on Europe, the UK, France, and Canada, where ethical guidance is focused on consumer protection.
AI ethics and principles
Take the first of five principles drawn up by the House of Lords AI Select Committee that “AI should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity”. The wording implies AI is a threat to mankind when in reality it will improve lives in the UK and secure a position in the global economy. We need practical principles that are appropriate for 2018 - not 2318 on the Starship Enterprise. It would be far more relevant to say AI should be developed to deliver a better quality of life and support UK plc.
The EU is also mired in noble nonsense around AI guiding principles. It wants the algorithmic decision-making process at the core of AI technologies to be transparent to customers and believes that taking the lead on ethics will help Europe catch China and the US in the AI race. But how do you give customers full insight without exposing competitive advantage? Do you force all AI applications to use only open-source algorithms?
The type of ethical goal being championed by the EU fails to recognise the division between the desire for consumer protection and the critical need to harness the benefits of AI for business and has conveniently ignored national security where there is a clear role for AI.
France is making similar mistakes. Like the UK, it puts data rights into the AI ethics mix when data privacy is not an AI issue, and the Villani report talks about the need for auditability in autonomous systems when blockchain will provide a comprehensive solution on that front.
AI is at the heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, powering a new era of smart automation to help businesses become more competitive while creating better working environments and improving job satisfaction. The technologies will also drive major advances in healthcare and education.
But politicians around the world are fixated on the global tech companies - Amazon, Google, Facebook – and on consumer issues. They are missing the point that in the business environment AI is essential for survival. What has using AI to create much more efficient manufacturing processes in bio-tech or the pharmaceutical industry got to do with someone harvesting data on Facebook? Absolutely nothing. It is the same technology, but being used in an entirely different context.
Most countries say they view AI as critical to their global competitiveness, yet many lawmakers seem intent on regulating it out of existence by considering ethical guidance from the political perspective. The ethical codes under development should be relevant to real-world AI applications, not stuffed with lofty, vote-winning pronouncements.
Google, Amazon and Facebook are latter-day East India Companies, data is the new oil, and today’s global economies are powered by technology companies. Over-regulation in Europe and the UK will send British and European businesses into a global boxing ring with one hand tied behind their back.
Engage in the debate
If we are to compete and be successful in the global economy, it must be on equal terms and business should be engaged in the debate, rather than academics, the political classes and those who see themselves as the metropolitan elite.