There’s no lack of reports on the ethics of artificial intelligence. But most of them are lightweight—full of platitudes about “public-private partnerships” and bromides about putting people first. They don’t acknowledge the knotty nature of the social dilemmas AI creates, or how tough it will be to untangle them. The new report from the AI Now Institute isn’t like that. It takes an unblinking look at a tech industry racing to reshape society along AI lines without any guarantee of reliable and fair results.
The report, released two weeks ago, is the brainchild of Kate Crawford and Meredith Whittaker, cofounders of AI Now, a new research institute based out of New York University. Crawford, Whittaker, and their collaborators lay out a research agenda and a policy roadmap in a dense but approachable 35 pages. Their conclusion doesn’t waffle: Our efforts to hold AI to ethical standards to date, they say, have been a flop.
“New ethical frameworks for AI need to move beyond individual responsibility to hold powerful industrial, governmental and military interests accountable as they design and employ AI,” they write. When tech giants build AI products, too often “user consent, privacy and transparency are overlooked in favor of frictionless functionality that supports profit-driven business models based on aggregated data profiles…” Meanwhile, AI systems are being introduced in policing, education, healthcare, and other environments where the misfiring of an algorithm could ruin a life. Is there anything we can do? Crawford sat down with us this week for a discussion of why ethics in AI is still a mess, and what practical steps might change the picture.