Is Ethical A.I. Even Possible?

Cade Metz at The New York Times: ” When a news article revealed that Clarifaiwas working with the Pentagon and some employees questioned the ethics of building artificial intelligence that analyzed video captured by drones, the company said the project would save the lives of civilians and soldiers.

“Clarifai’s mission is to accelerate the progress of humanity with continually improving A.I.,” read a blog post from Matt Zeiler, the company’s founder and chief executive, and a prominent A.I. researcher. Later, in a news media interview, Mr. Zeiler announced a new management position that would ensure all company projects were ethically sound.

As activists, researchers, and journalists voice concerns over the rise of artificial intelligence, warning against biased, deceptive and malicious applications, the companies building this technology are responding. From tech giants like Google and Microsoft to scrappy A.I. start-ups, many are creating corporate principles meant to ensure their systems are designed and deployed in an ethical way. Some set up ethics officers or review boards to oversee these principles.

But tensions continue to rise as some question whether these promises will ultimately be kept. Companies can change course. Idealism can bow to financial pressure. Some activists — and even some companies — are beginning to argue that the only way to ensure ethical practices is through government regulation....

As companies and governments deploy these A.I. technologies, researchers are also realizing that some systems are woefully biased. Facial recognition services, for instance, can be significantly less accurate when trying to identify women or someone with darker skin. Other systems may include security holes unlike any seen in the past. Researchers have shown that driverless cars can be fooled into seeing things that are not really there.

All this means that building ethical artificial intelligence is an enormously complex task. It gets even harder when stakeholders realize that ethics are in the eye of the beholder.

As some Microsoft employees protest the company’s military contracts, Mr. Smith said that American tech companies had long supported the military and that they must continue to do so. “The U.S. military is charged with protecting the freedoms of this country,” he told the conference. “We have to stand by the people who are risking their lives.”

Though some Clarifai employees draw an ethical line at autonomous weapons, others do not. Mr. Zeiler argued that autonomous weapons will ultimately save lives because they would be more accurate than weapons controlled by human operators. “A.I. is an essential tool in helping weapons become more accurate, reducing collateral damage, minimizing civilian casualties and friendly fire incidents,” he said in a statement.

Google worked on the same Pentagon project as Clarifai, and after a protest from company employees, the tech giant ultimately ended its involvement. But like Clarifai, as many as 20 other companies have worked on the project without bowing to ethical concerns.

After the controversy over its Pentagon work, Google laid down a set of “A.I. principles” meant as a guide for future projects. But even with the corporate rules in place, some employees left the company in protest. The new principles are open to interpretation. And they are overseen by executives who must also protect the company’s financial interests….

In their open letter, the Clarifai employees said they were unsure whether regulation was the answer to the many ethical questions swirling around A.I. technology, arguing that the immediate responsibility rested with the company itself….(More)”.