An acclaimed and alarming documentary, The Social Dilemma, was released on Netflix this month, prompting countless newspaper columns and online debates about the dark side of social media, big data and artificial intelligence. The film is indicative of a rising pessimism around the tech industry’s methods. In the coming years, companies incorporating AI and other emerging technologies into their processes should expect to face increased public scrutiny.
Given that mood, many executives have pointed to AI ethics as a critical consideration. A recent IBM/Forbes Insights survey of more than 200 technology leaders around the world identified AI ethicists as the top role they plan to recruit or train in the next two years. Such managers would provide guidance to organizations on the ethical development of AI products and services, with the aim of reducing systematic biases.
Companies that are Nearshoring could face their own range of unique ethical considerations. With parts of their value chain operating in different jurisdictions, and with no cross-border standards in place, AI ethicists are likely to be in growing demand in the coming years.
Expect Growing Demand for AI Ethicists
Susan Verdiguel is a Responsible AI advisor for Genia, a US corporation that promotes the regional development of AI in Latin America and the Caribbean. She also represents Mexico as its ambassador for Women in AI, a nonprofit that promotes gender-inclusive AI. According to Verdiguel, dedicated AI ethicists are already in need, as the technology has evolved beyond the comprehension of policymakers, institutions and the public.
“In Latin America, experts in AI ethics are in short supply,” Verdiguel said. “Emerging technologies such as AI need cross-disciplinary approaches… where different areas, profiles and points of view can intersect. Companies, organizations and governments in Latin America… will have to apply regulatory and legal frameworks to leverage this technology.”
Verdiguel argues responsible AI needs “a solid base that mitigates bias, and above all, promotes security.” She predicts that the demand for ethicists will grow in the future, but “the supply will probably be scarce.”
Companies are Responsible for Ethics Across their Supply Chain
Daniel Medina is the global compliance counsel at Finccom, a legal consultancy firm headquartered in Mexico City. He counsels financial services companies across the United States, Latin America and Europe.
Medina warns that unchecked AI instruments are liable to reproduce and amplify the discriminatory patterns in wider society. “The data used to determine or automate a certain process must be scrutinized,” he said. “For example, wage gap patterns between men and women could be replicated in algorithms… The AI is therefore more likely to award credit to men in comparison to women.”
Apple has been accused of discriminating between men and women with the company’s first credit card.
Medina believes such dilemmas will become common unless companies dedicate time and effort to addressing them.
“The AI ethicist is an emerging profession… Today, we can see more professionals taking an interest in learning about emerging technologies such as AI from an ethical perspective, with a view to minimizing risks in organizations.”
You are responsible, as an organization, for the good or bad practices that third parties develop
Medina believes that financial constraints for small-to-medium businesses could mean outsourcing AI becomes common practice in the coming years. But he warns that companies will have to supervise this process.
“The first thing you should know about the outsourcing of [AI] services is you are responsible, as an organization, for the good or bad practices that third parties develop,” Medina said. “The alignment of objectives and strategies with third parties is essential.”
Established Regulations Between Countries are Needed
Edson Prestes teaches at the Institute of Informatics of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. He is also a member of the UNESCO Ad Hoc Expert Group on Ethics and AI. According to Prestes, the “discussion about AI ethics is very incipient in Latin America.” But he believes AI ethics will becoming an increasingly pressing issue.
Prestes is currently involved in the elaboration of UNESCO’s first global standard-setting instrument on the ethics of artificial intelligence. The recommendation is designed to provide AI with a strong ethical basis.
“We delineated the requirements to reap all the benefits of AI while taking into consideration the risks of wider use,” Prestes said. “We also discussed some regulatory mechanisms.”
Prestes believes that a global instrument is needed to regulate the development of AI.
“It is crucial that countries collaborate,” he said. “Otherwise, how can you regulate problems that were created by some system that was developed in another country? The intention is that this document becomes a backbone to create a compass for national and regional legislation on AI.”
AI Ethics Cannot be An Afterthought
Sofia Trejo works for Mexico’s Alliance in Artificial Intelligence, a consortium of public research centers. She was one of the authors of the National AI Agenda for Mexico and led the research group responsible for the ethics section of the document.
Trejo welcomes the growing debate around AI ethics but warns that executives are prone to exaggerating their commitment to equitable technology.
“Many companies are developing their own [regulations] and most of them are really vague,” Trejo said. “They are just acknowledging that AI should be used for benefit. However, to whose benefit? The problem is they are just seeking some sort of validation instead of trying to direct the technology towards more beneficial results.”
Trejo said governments and the private sector will have to focus on the pragmatics of AI, rather than articulate vague principles that are open to interpretation.
“Ethics should be an integral part of the design and implementation of AI,” Trejo said. “I believe having an ethics advisor for companies is useful. However, the best way of creating better systems is to train programmers and the people who create this technology.”
Trejo said ethics should be at the forefront of the AI development process, from its earliest stages. “Otherwise, ethics [will] just be an afterthought,” she said.
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