Two excellent reflections on ethics in relation to Google’s AI principles

Two excellent pieces by Anab Jain and Lucy Suchman that I recommend you read if you’re interested in studying technology (not just AI) that reflect upon Google’s announcement of its ‘AI principles’ and its apparent commitment not to work on the US Government’s “project Maven”.

Here’s a couple of quotes that stood out, but you should definitely read both pieces:

Corporate Accountability – Lucy Suchman

The principle “Be accountable to people,” states “We will design AI systems that provide appropriate opportunities for feedback, relevant explanations, and appeal. Our AI technologies will be subject to appropriate human direction and control.” This is a key objective but how, realistically, will this promise be implemented? As worded, it implicitly acknowledges a series of complex and unsolved problems: the increasing opacity of algorithmic operations, the absence of due process for those who are adversely affected, and the increasing threat that automation will translate into autonomy, in the sense of technologies that operate in ways that matter without provision for human judgment or accountability. […]

Tackling the Ethical Challenges of Slippery Technology – Anab Jain

The overriding question for all of these principles, in the end, concerns the processes through which their meaning and adherence to them will be adjudicated. It’s here that Google’s own status as a private corporation, but one now a giant operating in the context of wider economic and political orders, needs to be brought forward from the subtext and subject to more explicit debate.

Given the networked nature of the technologies that companies like Google create, and the marketplace of growth and progress that they operate within, how can they control who will benefit and who will lose? What might be the implications of powerful companies taking an overt moral or political position? How might they comprehend the complex possibilities for applications of their products? […]

How many unintended consequences can we think of? And what happens when we do release something potentially problematic out into the world? How much funding can be put into fixing it? And what if it can’t be fixed? Do we still ship it? What happens to our business if we don’t? All of this would mean slowing down the trajectory of growth, it would mean deferring decision-making, and that does not rank high in performance metrics. It might even require moving away from the selection of The Particular Future in which the organisation is currently finding success.

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