Why Are We Failing at AI Ethics?

Article by Anja Kaspersen and Wendell Wallach: “…Extremely troubling is the fact that the people who are most vulnerable to negative impacts from such rapid expansions of AI systems are often the least likely to be able to join the conversation about these systems, either because they have no or restricted digital access or their lack of digital literacy makes them ripe for exploitation.

Such vulnerable groups are often theoretically included in discussions, but not empowered to take a meaningful part in making decisions. This engineered inequity, alongside human biases, risks amplifying otherness through neglect, exclusion, misinformation, and disinformation.

Society should be deeply concerned that nowhere near enough substantive progress is being made to develop and scale actionable legal, ethical oversight while simultaneously addressing existing inequalities.

So, why hasn’t more been done? There are three main issues at play: 

First, many of the existing dialogues around the ethics of AI and governance are too narrow and fail to understand the subtleties and life cycles of AI systems and their impacts.

Often, these efforts focus only on the development and deployment stages of the technology life cycle, when many of the problems occur during the earlier stages of conceptualization, research, and design. Or they fail to comprehend when and if AI system operates at a level of maturity required to avoid failure in complex adaptive systems.

Or they focus on some aspects of ethics, while ignoring other aspects that are more fundamental and challenging. This is the problem known as “ethics washing” – creating a superficially reassuring but illusory sense that ethical issues are being adequately addressed, to justify pressing forward with systems that end up deepening current patterns.

Let’s be clear: every choice entails tradeoffs. “Ethics talk” is often about underscoring the various tradeoffs entailed in differing courses of action. Once a course has been selected, comprehensive ethical oversight is also about addressing the considerations not accommodated by the options selected, which is essential to any future verification effort. This vital part of the process is often a stumbling block for those trying to address the ethics of AI.

The second major issue is that to date all the talk about ethics is simply that: talk. 

We’ve yet to see these discussions translate into meaningful change in managing the ways in which AI systems are being embedded into various aspect of our lives….

A third issue at play is that discussions on AI and ethics are still largely confined to the ivory tower.

There is an urgent need for more informed public discourse and serious investment in civic education around the societal impact of the bio-digital revolution. This could help address the first two problems, but most of what the general public currently perceives about AI comes from sci-fi tropes and blockbuster movies.

A few examples of algorithmic bias have penetrated the public discourse. But the most headline-grabbing research on AI and ethics tends to focus on far-horizon existential risks. More effort needs to be invested in communicating to the public that, beyond the hypothetical risks of future AI, there are real and imminent risks posed by why and how we embed AI systems that currently shape everyone’s daily lives….(More)”.