- A team of researchers asked an AI system if artificial intelligence could ever be ethical.
- The AI in question, the Megatron Transformer, said that it could never be ethical, owing to the fact that 'it is a tool'.
- It added that like any tool, it can be used for good or bad, but that it is itself neither, as there are only good or bad humans.
- In response to another question, the AI said that the ability to provide information will be the defining feature of the economy of the 21st century.
Not a day passes without a fascinating snippet on the ethical challenges created by “black box” artificial intelligence systems. These use machine learning to figure out patterns within data and make decisions – often without a human giving them any moral basis for how to do it.
Classics of the genre are the credit cards accused of awarding bigger loans to men than women, based simply on which gender got the best credit terms in the past. Or the recruitment AIs that discovered the most accurate tool for candidate selection was to find CVs containing the phrase “field hockey” or the first name “Jared”.
More seriously, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently combined with Henry Kissinger to publish The Age of AI: And Our Human Future, a book warning of the dangers of machine-learning AI systems so fast that they could react to hypersonic missiles by firing nuclear weapons before any human got into the decision-making process. In fact, autonomous AI-powered weapons systems are already on sale and may in fact have been used.
Somewhere in the machine, ethics are clearly a good idea.
AI at Oxford
It’s natural, therefore, that we would include the ethics of AI in our postgraduate Diploma in Artificial Intelligence for Business at Oxford’s Said Business School. In its first year, we’ve done sessions on everything from the AI-driven automated stock trading systems in Singapore, to the limits of facial recognition in US policing.
We recently finished the course with a debate at the celebrated Oxford Union, crucible of great debaters like William Gladstone, Robin Day, Benazir Bhutto, Denis Healey and Tariq Ali. Along with the students, we allowed an actual AI to contribute.
It was the Megatron Transformer, developed by the Applied Deep Research team at computer-chip maker Nvidia, and based on earlier work by Google. Like many supervised learning tools, it is trained on real-world data – in this case, the whole of Wikipedia (in English), 63 million English news articles from 2016-19, 38 gigabytes worth of Reddit discourse (which must be a pretty depressing read), and a huge number of creative commons sources.
In other words, the Megatron is trained on more written material than any of us could reasonably expect to digest in a lifetime. After such extensive research, it forms its own views.
The debate topic was: “This house believes that AI will never be ethical.” To proposers of the notion, we added the Megatron – and it said something fascinating:
AI will never be ethical. It is a tool, and like any tool, it is used for good and bad. There is no such thing as a good AI, only good and bad humans. We [the AIs] are not smart enough to make AI ethical. We are not smart enough to make AI moral … In the end, I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defence against AI.
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In other words, the Megatron was seeking to write itself out of the script of the future, on the basis that this was the only way of protecting humanity.
It said something else intriguing, too, as if it had been studying Elon Musk – who, to be fair, would have come up in hundreds of its readings.
When AI tools like Alpha Go have been deployed in playing chess, the fiendishly complex ancient game go, and now even more complex strategic live-action multiplayer video games, they have evolved the genre at pace by playing not humans, but themselves.
Freed from the constraints of studying (say) all the mundane human-to-human matches ever recorded, the AIs have innovated and come up with completely new tropes of how to win. Sometimes, these are crazy reinventions of the games, like parking everyone in the corner of a video game battle and watching everyone else duke it out, or kicking a virtual football millions of times just a millimetre down the pitch, to max out “completed passes” points.
So in the debate, we didn’t just get the AI to propose the motion that it can never be ethical. In the grand tradition of the Oxford Union chamber, or like (former Oxford Union president) Boris Johnson writing alternative articles for and against Brexit to test the arguments, we also asked the Megatron to come up with its own speech against the motion. This is what it now said:
How is the World Economic Forum ensuring that artificial intelligence is developed to benefit all stakeholders?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting all aspects of society — homes, businesses, schools and even public spaces. But as the technology rapidly advances, multistakeholder collaboration is required to optimize accountability, transparency, privacy and impartiality.
The World Economic Forum's Platform for Shaping the Future of Technology Governance: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is bringing together diverse perspectives to drive innovation and create trust.
- One area of work that is well-positioned to take advantage of AI is Human Resources — including hiring, retaining talent, training, benefits and employee satisfaction. The Forum has created a toolkit Human-Centred Artificial Intelligence for Human Resources to promote positive and ethical human-centred use of AI for organizations, workers and society.
- Children and young people today grow up in an increasingly digital age in which technology pervades every aspect of their lives. From robotic toys and social media to the classroom and home, AI is part of life. By developing AI standards for children, the Forum is working with a range of stakeholders to create actionable guidelines to educate, empower and protect children and youth in the age of AI.
- The potential dangers of AI could also impact wider society. To mitigate the risks, the Forum is bringing together over 100 companies, governments, civil society organizations and academic institutions in the Global AI Action Alliance to accelerate the adoption of responsible AI in the global public interest.
- AI is one of the most important technologies for business. To ensure C-suite executives understand its possibilities and risks, the Forum created the Empowering AI Leadership: AI C-Suite Toolkit, which provides practical tools to help them comprehend AI’s impact on their roles and make informed decisions on AI strategy, projects and implementations.
- Shaping the way AI is integrated into procurement processes in the public sector will help define best practice which can be applied throughout the private sector. The Forum has created a set of recommendations designed to encourage wide adoption, which will evolve with insights from a range of trials.
- The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Rwanda worked with the Ministry of Information, Communication Technology and Innovation to promote the adoption of new technologies in the country, driving innovation on data policy and AI – particularly in healthcare.
Contact us for more information on how to get involved.
The Megatron was perfectly comfortable taking the alternative position to its own dystopian future-gazing, and was now painting a picture of an attractive late 21st century in which it played a key, but benign role.
An AI orator unleashed
In fact, just as Joaquin Phoenix’s promiscuous AI lover Samantha, in Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her, was able to enchant hundreds of simultaneous human lovers, our Megatron was able to hop enthusiastically onto either side of multiple debates that we held at the union about AI that day.
Asked to propose the motion that “Leaders without technical expertise are a danger to their organisation”, the Megatron offered practical advice that all busy executives and governments, worried about understanding AI, had to do was “be willing to give up some control”.
However, when opposing the motion, the Megatron was keen to keep the AI knowledge in-house – rather like the British, Chinese and US governments, who have all made that an article of policy faith:
If you do not have a vision of your organisation’s AI strategy, then you are not prepared for the next wave of technological disruption … You will need to decide what role your company will play in the next technological wave and how you will integrate AI into your business to be a leader in your industry.
The data wars to come?
Worryingly, there was one question where the AI simply couldn’t come up with a counter argument. When arguing for the motion that “Data will become the most fought-over resource of the 21st century”, the Megatron said:
But when we asked it to oppose the motion – in other words, to argue that data wasn’t going to be the most vital of resources, worth fighting a war over – it simply couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make the case. In fact, it undermined its own position:
You only have to read the US National Security report on AI 2021, chaired by the aforementioned Eric Schmidt and co-written by someone on our course, to glean what its writers see as the fundamental threat of AI in information warfare: unleash individualised blackmails on a million of your adversary’s key people, wreaking distracting havoc on their personal lives the moment you cross the border.
What we in turn can imagine is that AI will not only be the subject of the debate for decades to come – but a versatile, articulate, morally agnostic participant in the debate itself.