Ethics and AI: more human intelligence needed

In a fascinating article in the journal Nature, four specialists from the world of computer science and robotics address what the article’s sub-title misleading suggests are the “societal risks from intelligent machines”. As these contributors make clear from each of four distinct perspectives, the risks are clearly much less “from intelligent machines” and more from a society that is not ready for them.

In summary, the article concerns the need for more coherent communications and greater transparency in our consideration of the ethics of AI as it moves beyond the research lab and out into the world. Scientists, business people, politicians, and serious thinkers of all stripes need an open dialogue that is focused more on outcomes and the potential for AI to integrate helpfully with humanity, and less on protecting the status quo and the entrenched interests of commerce and power.

The people who know what they are talking about need to minimise the risk of the agenda being seized by those who don’t, however well-meaning those people may be. It will always be the curse of genius that it must spend its life running up and down rich men’s stairs, but the emerging world of intelligence and human/machine symbiosis must be inspired and directed by the champions of the science.

Amidst the babble of Rumsfeld’s famous rumination on known knowns and known unknowns, the missing permutation was the unknown knowns: that is, the things that are known to people who know them, but unknown to people like Rumsfeld. It is vital that those who are engaged with the emerging AI industry master the tools of effective communications and make known what really matters to the rest of us.

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