Ethics and AI

Recently I attended an on-line seminar on “Ethics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)” by Roberto Zicari (Prof. of DBIS) – Goethe University Frankfurt) on the need of an Ethical AI Due Diligence.

It was an interesting seminar that addressed the issues relevant to measurement and management of ethics in the development and use of AI Tools. As a result of this seminar, I was motivated to ask the question: Ethics is a matter of philosophy. Do we need a sustained education on Philosophy and the related topics on Subjectivity Vs. Objectivity as part of AI Technology education? The speaker acknowledged the need and pointed out some effort in this direction in the academic circles.

Following are some reflections on ethics and philosophy:

We have discussed earlier that Philosophy is an in-depth analytical study of any subject matter:

It is not a mere coincidence that the highest degree awarded in any field of study is called “Doctor of Philosophy”. The best researcher in any field has the best KNOWLEDGE of the laws of nature at play in that field, the limitations (IGNORANCE) of such knowledge and possible wrong or erroneous interpretations (BIAS) of the same! The same can be said of any true professional – the best engineer, doctor, surgeon, musician, carpenter, etc.  The knowledge, bias and ignorance are the three connectors through which we relate to the subject matter. The process of understanding these connectors, when it is explicit and analytical and quantitative, we call the process as “scientific”. The more intuitive and inferential the process, we call it as “Common sense”.  

The relative proportion of the three co-existing connectors – Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance – with respect to the subject on hand and the dominance of one is not always easy to identify and separate out. If we observe carefully, we find that our “education” of every kind is intended to facilitate our skills to identify these three connectors, their relative proportions and how to sort them out! One who is good at this skill (to identify these connectors in any given field) becomes “expert” in that field of study.

This process of search for the three connectors and their relative proportions can be precise, only when there is equal weight placed on all three connectors! Consideration of all evidences with equal weight and emphasis on all three connectors – knowledge, bias and ignorance – is called “Objectivity”. An objective person is not swayed by his/her knowledge nor tends to understate or diminish the evidences pertaining to bias and ignorance. An objective frame of mind treats all three connectors with equal weight or merit.

The characteristic features of Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance have been outlined earlier:

  Knowledge Bias Ignorance
Features or key characteristics of the three Connectors (Guna). Knowledge adds illumination and clarification of the situation or problem on hand Bias arises out of personal needs and wants and our attachment to them. Ignorance is driven by illusion, fantasy or irrational expectations.
  Knowledge binds a person through genuine sense of happiness Bias binds a person to endless chain of activities Ignorance binds one through lack of directions.
  Knowledge can be recognized through the happiness and contentment based on the well-being for all. Bias can be recognized through associated endless chain or recurrence of additional activities, without a sense of closure, satisfaction or fulfillment. Ignorance shrouds the knowledge and leads to lack of direction.
How can one perceive the dominance of each connector? When knowledge, illumination or comprehension is perceived in every aspect of the subject matter and its functions, one can recognize that through the tranquility that follows. When Bias is dominant the subject matter or activity is drawn into greed or desires of endless nature, driven by intense personal needs, initiation of innumerable activities due to a lack of satisfaction or contentment, unease and longing. When stagnation or inactivity prevails, the result is ineptness, lack of direction or sense of purpose and illusion (attraction born out of ignorance).
At a time of crisis or when a decision needs to be made,  the dominant connector leads to: True Knowledge transforms a person to a higher plane of existence (of total self-control and unattached active participation). Bias leads a person to more activities, merely as a means to satisfy growing personal wants and desires which continue to remain as unfulfilled. Ignorance leads one to the vicious cycle of being shrouded by ignorance
The result or fruit of dominance of each Connector: Proper or virtuous acts and purity or clarity  Sorrow. Depression and despair
Each Connector Leads to:  Knowledge and understanding  Greed Lack of direction and illusion
Accomplishment of the intended purpose by the persons under the influence of each connector: Rise to the higher level (through greater levels of engagement of self-control and the reasoning and logic that occurs as a result) Stay in the middle (due to the self and its reasoning being constantly over ruled by attachments and its insatiable needs and wants) Sink to the lower level (since the reasoning and logic of the self never occurs, like the fire being shrouded by the ashes eventually gets quenched).

Now let us discuss the relevance of these three connectors with respect to “Ethics”. Whatever we learn on this aspect would be applicable as it pertains to “ethics in any subject” including AI.

Let us begin our discussion by first defining the subject matter. AI is often thought of a solution using the tools of Machine Learning and Data Science. The AI proliferates depending on the data, its collection methods, tools for analysis, etc. To keep it simple let us state that the end result is a “solution” and its use. Ethics will be of concern during the development of the solution, its application / use, benefits achieved of value to the developer of the solution as well as the user and finally the impact of the solution and its benefits to the society at large. This chain of events is illustrated in the schematic diagram as noted above.

While ethics is often thought of as the impact of the solution on the society at large, such focus will be like attempting to lock the cattle inside after the barn door has been left open for a while! In many respects this might be the ignorance as it pertains to ethics and its management. In fact, ethics must be taken into account at every stage – from solution development, testing and USE or deployment – keeping in mind the impact to the developer, user and the society at large. This emphasis on benefit at large (which in turn also leads to the benefit to the self) may be described as the Emotional Intelligence for innovation. For details:

Focus on ethics at every stage of the innovation process also requires a passionate engagement of professionals in areas beyond their comfort zone. It is natural for engineers and technical professionals – often computer scientists – to think of their work as “technical” and leave all the rest to “others” to worry about. This bias and attachment to partial knowledge is often the source of problems that manifest as larger issues. The same can be said of ethics and how it is impacted by the bias or task oriented approach to solution development and implementation of AI solutions. To overcome such limitations of bias, it is imperative to teach and train professionals on “System Thinking” and its comprehensive understanding:

Once we have minimized the ignorance and bias as described above Knowledge pertaining to ethics permeates. Ethics is no longer seen as an afterthought, but built into every phase of the solution development and deployment. Such effort is preceded by comprehensive description and definition of the entire solution chain. Ethics is no longer a thought or task to be carried out. Instead ethics becomes a way of life, the life blood of every professional at every level engaged in the solution. Taken in abstract, this statement may sound Utopian. But, when efforts are made and education is provided to minimize the ignorance and bias as described above, ethics as a way of life, ethical solutions as the only acceptable solutions become a natural and accepted practice.

System Thinking and Emotional Intelligence are part of a set of seven Transformational Skills described in two books: