For decades now, AI has been taking over all major industries of the world, from education to healthcare, manufacturing, and even the fashion industry. It wouldn’t be much of an overstatement to claim that all leading corporations are utilizing AI to improve their operational efficiency and of course, their net worth and profitability. In this day and age, it becomes necessary, therefore, to acquire a better understanding of what such emerging technologies have to offer and recognize that just like anything else, AI has certain pitfalls too.
While no one can deny the value of AI as it transforms the entire business world, but scientists and socialists have only recently started exploring and realizing its societal and ethical implications. From posing common problems like privacy invasions to realizing the fear of more profound issues, like national and foreign security threats, AI has sparked the interest of corporate giants, governments and human right activists, all over the world.
According to a study conducted by Vanson Bourne in 2019, 94% of the 1,000 U.S. and UK IT decision-makers maintain that people should pay more attention to corporate responsibility and ethics when it comes to AI development. It becomes our duty to society to make an effort to understand AI, and make better, wiser choices when dealing with it.
The first step in this journey, of course, is to gain awareness of the problem.
This article is an attempt to analyze some of the prominent ethical concerns that stem from enterprise AI.
Data and Personal Security
One must remember that while a person might have the sense to keep your secrets, AI relies on machines. And machines are always vulnerable to attacks from viruses and hackers. Because of the growth of global markets and digital transactions, there is always the risk of valuable data getting stolen, or being misused by others. If strong security measures are not adopted to safeguard information, we run the risk of losing sensitive data such as credit card information and important passcodes, if applications get hacked.
While most businesses are learning new ways of utilizing AI, through online courses and training programs, taking elaborate measures to strengthen their security, the million-dollar question still remains; how safe is it really, to do business online, with the threat of data theft always lurking around in the corner?
Investors and consumers alike need to be careful regarding online business transactions, especially with organizations that seem unreliable, and perhaps invest time and money to thoroughly look into their security plans, before sharing any kind of personal information. At a time when most of us click the ‘I agree’ button to all sorts of applications faster than we can blink, this requires a major behavioral shift.
The Invasion of Privacy
All apps today demand permission to access personal data, such as pictures and recordings of our mobile phones. As previously highlighted, on the occasion of a system hack, valuable information can be grossly misused. But apart from that, most applications also demand permission to track your location, which basically means that any successful hacker will know exactly where you are, at any given time. Not to mention, the presence of security cameras, each of which can also be hacked, following your every move. That only adds to the societal dangers of cyber-crime, including cyber-stalking and identity thefts that can occur. Although the majority of the world’s population will likely remain unaffected by these cameras that also provide an unequivocal share of security to people, there is no denying that they pose a serious threat to individual privacy when unregulated.
Faulty Facial Recognition Features
A more familiar risk associated with AI, for most of us, is that of faulty facial recognition. Now sometimes this can lead to smaller problems, like temporarily being unable to unlock one’s phone to larger issues that had led to controversial corporate scandals and lawsuits when their systems refused to behave as they were expected to. To cite an example, Google received massive complains from users in 2015, when its image recognition software started to tag people of color as ‘gorillas.’ The only way the company was able to fix this problem was to stop the technology’s ability to recognize gorillas altogether.
While this is just one example of how things can go wrong when AI applications are given free rein and expected to do human jobs, it can open our eyes up to the ways integrating AI can affect human societies and interactions.
Replacement of the Human Labor Force
Perhaps it’s best to take the healthcare industry into consideration, as one of the major fields where the use of AI hasn’t gone lightly. From providing assistance in surgeries to increased efficiency in diagnosing illnesses, there is a lot of potentials that AI tech has to offer to the world. The question that is mostly asked is, ‘can machines ever replace doctors completely?’ Well, as of now, it doesn’t seem likely, as there are certain things that software cannot totally account for, such as, physical and behavioral irregularities, human capital and the wisdom of experience. For example, studies have proved that while AI systems have made diagnosing sickness more accurate, such diagnoses cannot always be relied upon.
However, AI has also become prevalent in other industries. With a single AI machine capable of doing the work of several men, it is no wonder that manual labor is now being replaced by AI systems. That said, there are those who argue that AI is actually creating better job opportunities for people.
Basing arguments on the Marxist concept of alienation, where factory workers are forced to perform fragmented and repetitive tasks and are thus alienated from their work, contenders of AI claim that with machines taking over physical labor, other jobs that allow for human interaction and for the labor force to be connected with their work, are inevitably created.
While this issue still remains unresolved, we need to take the ethical impact of people losing their jobs seriously before we embrace enterprise AI wholeheartedly.
Device and Application Safety
Another critical issue that needs to be considered when dealing with AI technology is that of safety, at both national and international levels. The basic question seeking to be addressed here is, ‘how safe are AI monitored devices and applications?’
For example, autonomous vehicles have a mind of their own and thus react accordingly in case of unavoidable collisions. When confronted with the classic trolley problem (should five lives be saved in turn for one?), we humans have no idea how a machine is going to react under such a circumstance. And if humans, to this day, have failed to solve this moral dilemma, can we really expect machines devoid of human empathy to solve this ethical issue?
Similarly, if we are constantly researching AI to produce better weaponry for the military or for federal police authorities, we need to consider who they will be used against. Is it justifiable to attack people with such weapons? And who gets to define who an enemy is?
These are only a few of the moral and ethical concerns that need to be answered before further research is conducted on AI by the military enterprise. Otherwise, the chances of technology being misused and at its extreme becoming uncontrollable will continue to linger on.
These are some of the reasons why leaders claim today that the use of AI should be regulated. With the absence of proper laws to govern the use of AI applications, enterprises are yet unaware as to whether their use of AI, is ethical or not.
Not only should laws be formed and stated in black and white, but companies also need to take individual steps to ensure that ethical rights are being enforced with their use of AI. For example, they can adhere to the best practices of data sciences, or learn more about how they can increase the security of their system through AI, or go for using transparent technologies to guarantee that their customers are not being cheated.
Such actions will not only help build trust but will also guarantee that ethical rights of consumers using enterprise AI are not violated. Only by facing and dealing with, instead of ignoring such concerns, will we be able to move forward to adopt AI guilt-free, for the numerous advances the technology brings to us.