Artificial Intelligence digital ethics

Conscious AI: The Role and Impact of Digital Ethics in 2021

For some time, we have been in an era of unprecedented technological advancement. It has been clear to many that our ethics have not had time to keep up. Technology permeates our lives and society like nothing else. We can’t talk about medicine, politics, economics, the environment, religion, business, or culture in general without observing how technology has made fundamental changes. Even those who tried to shield their lives from the influence of technology quickly find that they can’t. That is especially true due to the continuing development and use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning.

The Potential Benefits of AI

Proponents of AI have a lot to point to when expressing how this technology can improve our world. In fact, AI may be uniquely suited to solve some of the most complex problems of our day. Even without technology, our world has become more complex simply due to the growing number of inhabitants and challenges of creating food security, fighting diseases that cross borders, and addressing the unjust allocation of resources. AI has the potential to improve the distribution of scarce resources, improve public services, and engage underrepresented communities. AI’s ability to ingest and process an incredible amount of data can lead to better decisions based more on facts than opinions and political power.

Can Digital Ethics Keep Up?

Still, with this rapid acceleration in the adoption of these new tools, can our digital ethics keep up? Are we prepared to make decisions about what roles of AI fit within our common ethical framework? Can we decide, as a society, where the guardrails of AI should be? What tools will we need to ensure that algorithms that run behind the scenes are genuinely reflecting our values and priorities? Are we aware enough of the potential dark side of AI, thatit can be intentionally or unintentionally used to disenfranchise or even harm entire people groups?

The Dark Side of AI

At its best, AI raises some serious ethical concerns. At its worse, it can cause irreparable harm. Researchers and journalists attempt to bring to light the dangers of AI in creating “deep fakes.” The technology is available to manipulate audio and video so that it is possible to create a fake video that is not discernible from the real thing. In the wrong hands, videos could be released of world leaders saying things they never said. The potential for disruption and unrest is staggering.

AI Accountability

Even when AI is not being used for nefarious purposes, there are significant risks created when we offer such power to unseen algorithms. When machines decide, how can we know what implicit biases have been initially coded within their algorithms? With many of these systems considered proprietary trade secrets, is there even a way for us to know? More people are becoming aware of these algorithms at work in social media, and we are quickly discovering that they are not morally neutral.

Who Will Decide?

How will we help people navigate this new world of AI? Will we give individuals the tools they need to navigate the internet and understand how content is selected and decisions made? Who will ensure models are developed that consider fairness and justice in decisions based on AI outputs? What role will governments, social media platforms, and governments in increasing transparency and ensuring a level playing field for all?

AI Will Impact Us All

None of us will have a choice as to our participation in a world that relies on AI. It is already embedded in more decision making processes than we know. Our collective digital ethics are likely not yet ready for this future that is already upon us. The question is, can we catch up?

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