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Pew Research study of AI ethics

Majority of experts pessimistic about AI ethics

Experts doubt that ethical artificial intelligence will be broadly adopted within a decade. A Pew Research survey of developers and scientists show a majority worry that the evolution of AI by 2030 will continue to be primarily focused on optimizing profits and social control. They fear the difficulty of achieving consensus about ethics. Still, many say future AI breakthroughs will improve life.

Pew nots that corporations and governments are charging evermore expansively into AI development. Increasingly, nonprogrammers can set up off-the-shelf, pre-built AI tools as they prefer.

“As this unfolds, a number of experts and advocates around the world have become worried about the long-term impact and implications of AI applications. They have concerns about how advances in AI will affect what it means to be human, to be productive and to exercise free will.”

”Dozens of convenings and study groups have issued papers proposing what the tenets of ethical AI design should be, and government working teams have tried to address these issues.”

Pew Research Centre and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Centre asked experts where they thought efforts aimed at creating ethical artificial intelligence would stand in the year 2030. Some 602 technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists contributed.

The basic question was: By 2030, will most of the AI systems being used by organizations of all sorts employ ethical principles focused primarily on the public good?

68%  said ethical principles focused primarily on the public good will not be employed in most AI systems by 2030;

32% said ethical principles focused primarily on the public good will be employed in most AI systems by 2030.

The Pew summarized worries expressed by the participants as:

  • It is difficult to define ‘ethical’ AI
  • Control of AI is concentrated in the hands of powerful companies and governments driven by profit and power motives
  • The AI genie is already out of the bottle, abuses are already occurring and some are not very visible and hard to remed
  • Global competition, especially between China and the US, will matter more to the development of AI than any ethical issues

The hopes were summarized as follows:

  • Historically, ethics have evolved as new technologies mature and become embedded in cultures
  • As problems arise so do adjustments
  • Fixes are likely to roll out in different ways along different timelines in different domains
  • Expert panels concerned about ethical AI are being convened in many settings across the globe
  • Social upheavals arising due to AI problems are a force that may drive it closer to the top of human agendas
  • Political and judicial systems will be asked to keep abuses in check, and evolving case law will emerge (some experts are concerned this could be a net negative)
  • AI itself can be used to assess AI impacts and hunt down unethical applications
  • A new generation of technologists whose training has been steeped with ethical thinking will lead the movement toward design that values people and positive progress above profit and power motives and the public will become wiser about the downsides of being code-dependent.


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