There is no consensus yet on a single set of human values or preferences to govern AI. This is where principles come into play, and philosophy is showing the way
As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more deeply integrated into our lives, the ethical questions surrounding its use and deployment are becoming increasingly important. Who decides how AI is used? What values guide its behaviour? And how are these values selected?
The next generations of generative AI, quantum computing, and other emerging technologies don’t just pose a challenge for organisational operations and strategy; they also raise thorny ethical questions that can impact society at large. Today’s businesses aren’t equipped to handle these challenges.
One way to address these questions is through the use of principles – foundational values that drive decisions big and small in AI. Just as principles shape the way we live our lives and our sense of right and wrong, they also shape AI’s approach to a range of decisions involving trade-offs, such as the choice between prioritising productivity or helping those most in need.
Philosophy can help
But how do we select principles for AI, given the diverse opinions and backgrounds of people who will be impacted by this technology? This is where philosophy can help.
In a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, researchers drew inspiration from philosophy to identify fair principles for AI. Specifically, they explored how the concept of the “veil of ignorance” – a thought experiment intended to help identify fair principles for group decisions – can be applied to AI.
The Veil of Ignorance
The Veil of Ignorance is a thought experiment proposed by political philosopher John Rawls in the 1970s. It is intended to help identify fair principles for group decisions. The idea is that when people select principles of justice for a society, they should imagine that they are doing so without knowledge of their own particular position in that society, including their social status or level of wealth. Without this information, people can’t make decisions in a self-interested way, and should instead choose principles that are fair to everyone involved. In the context of AI, applying the Veil of Ignorance can help researchers and policymakers select fair principles that are not biased towards any particular group.
The Veil of Ignorance has been used in environmental ethics to guide decisions about how to allocate resources in a way that is fair to future generations. For example, philosopher John Broome has argued that if we didn’t know whether we would be born in the present or future, we would choose to allocate resources in a way that is sustainable and doesn’t harm future generations. This has led to proposals for policies such as carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes, which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
The Veil of Ignorance has been employed in debates about income and wealth distribution, taxation policies, and social welfare systems. By imagining oneself behind the veil, decision-makers can consider the impact of their choices on individuals without knowledge of their specific social status or economic circumstances.
Choosing fairness over self-interest
In applying the Veil of Ignorance to determine ethical use of AI, the researchers conducted an experiment where participants were asked to choose between two principles to guide an AI assistant’s behaviour in a game. Participants who did not know their position consistently preferred the principle that helped disadvantaged group members, showing a tendency to choose fairness over self-interest.
This approach can help promote fairness in decision-making and ensure that AI systems are aligned with human values. However, there is no consensus on a single set of human values or preferences to govern AI. This is where principles come into play – theyhelp guide decision-making in a way that is fair and ethical for all parties involved.
As AI technology continues to have a profound effect on our lives, it is important to consider the principles that govern its behaviour. By applying the veil of ignorance and other philosophical concepts, we can identify fair principles for AI that benefit everyone and promote ethical decision-making.
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