Ethics and Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence is not exempt from ethical questioning. Like all technologies, it gives rise to all kinds of fantasies, hopes and worries. While it can be the promise of a life made easier by connected objects, of a longer life relieved of various forms of suffering, of increased productivity benefiting humanity or of better control of risks, whether confrontational, sanitary or even financial, it can also pose an existential threat to human beings, a potential path to a new world war, a threat to our fundamental freedoms, an alienating and uncontrollable technology in the long term.
Nevertheless, it has become an object of international relations, considered an indispensable factor of power. The political stakes it covers lead to choices whose ethical acceptability is continually being questioned. Can personal data be marketed? Should we equip combat robots with them? Is it acceptable to reproduce the human brain? Can we play the game of demigods? What is our responsibility towards future generations?
What is ethics?
Yet, on closer inspection, few people know what ethics is. Under that term, each of us has our own insights, our own expectations and our own perception of a word that is now so overused. Ethics – a field of philosophy aimed at evaluating the acceptable and unacceptable, right and wrong – is a subject that requires basic knowledge of the different approaches it covers. In a globalized world with diverse cultures that intersect and often clash, ethics has become a means of communication, a common language that promotes collaboration.
It therefore requires knowledge that goes beyond cultural a priori or limited perspectives. Doing ethics today means mastering the bases of the three major continental approaches, namely virtue ethics, deontology and consequentialism, but it also means being able to be open to other approaches based on different traditions, beliefs, histories and different types of wisdom. Therefore, no one can understand the relationship to technology in China by approaching it through an exclusively Western prism and concealing its Confucian foundation. Nor can one exchange effectively with the Asian continent, or with Africa or the Middle East, without knowing the ethical springs on which the thoughts of the people who live there are based, without being open to difference.
Ethics is not law, it is not “mere common sense” and it is not politics. As a subject in its own right, it requires knowledge and methods. It requires reflection beyond our particular convictions. It calls for in-depth and global reflection on "vivre ensemble”, a kind of living together that is no longer limited to a national community, but transcends the arbitrary divisions of borders or socio-cultural categories.
The future of ethics in the field of AI
Ethics and artificial intelligence are complex fields. Their interplay accentuates this complexity.
The race for AI that is being played out today on the international scene will lead to decisions, by private and public stakeholders, whose acceptability will be questionable at the very least.
Globalization adds a further degree of complexity by imposing collaboration between often very different cultures, between very different ethics. Our ability to understand, listen, mobilize our knowledge to tolerate these differences and use them effectively will safeguard constructive exchanges on our societies’ future.
Ethics applied to AI is a societal issue that therefore transcends borders. It is being faced with different perspectives, it seeks to regulate diverse practices and to iron out often conflicting interests. It is a challenge that will continue to intensify and that can only be taken up by those who understand its nuances and subtleties and are capable of grasping its diversity.
Accordingly, ethics applied to AI is a promise made to those concerned about potential abuses in its use. It warrants a reflective approach that represents a safeguard, admittedly imperfect, but indispensable for all that.
Ethics as a societal issue
Ethics of finance, the environment, politics, medicine, war, research ethics: these are just a few of the many fields of application of a subject that has slowly invaded our everyday lives. Ethics is now at the heart of both private and public discourse, used and over-used mainly by non-specialists who benefit from excessive media coverage, which has helped make this field of philosophy a linguistic buzzword.
As we know, our societies are constantly striving for meaning. Concerned about a world whose complexity is overwhelming us, we are in this word seeking hope for a better future, for a reason to feel confident and thus to reduce the complexity of the world by limiting the need for knowledge.
Ethics is much more than just a branch of philosophy. It is a societal issue, the promise of a better future, the guarantee of peaceful social relations and assurance of predictable risk control. It has become a reassuring mediator, a communication tool aimed at embellishing the ugly, at disguising a disturbing reality in order to present it in an appealing light: a “cosm-ethics”.
Faced with the inertia of law and the difficulty of adapting it in real time to the rapid changes in the world, we turn to ethics to standardize our behavior. Flexible and easy to handle, ethics speaks to everyone and often compensates for the weakness or lack of legal standards. Malleable, it is used in all areas of human activity and presented as a panacea, a miracle cure for a particular form of deregulation brought about by globalization.
To be constructive, ethics applied to AI must relate to the real world, to everyday problems. It requires fundamental knowledge, often fascinating, permitting a rigorous reflection on the stakes of AI development and use. It must be approached like all other academic subjects: with rigor. aivancity has therefore naturally chosen to focus on the issue of training in ethics applied to artificial intelligence: providing reliable tools to effectively explore tomorrow’s challenges.
Director of the Ethics & Artificial Intelligence Observatory of the Sapiens Institute