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The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence Back

Part 1 - Digital Profiling and Data Analytics

I have always been a traditionalist, far removed from the leaps in Technology which I hitherto felt was the domain of the Techies ; the scientifically minded , the nerds, the developers and the many other names by which they may be called. But with Technology, surely and now rapidly taking over our lives, for the first time, I began to wake up to its reality about two years ago. Living in relative isolation through the past year and a half of the Corona Virus pandemic has not only given all of us the opportunity to use technology but also to think about it and it’s impact on our lives. 

 

The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

Part 1 - Digital Profiling and Data Analytics

I have always been a traditionalist, far removed from the leaps in Technology which I hitherto felt was the domain of the Techies ; the scientifically minded , the nerds, the developers and the many other names by which they may be called. But with Technology, surely and now rapidly taking over our lives, for the first time, I began to wake up to its reality about two years ago. Living in relative isolation through the past year and a half of the Corona Virus pandemic has not only given all of us the opportunity to use technology but also to think about it and it’s impact on our lives. 

As I sat back and contemplated the current and future possibilities with Technology I began to focus on its most talked about area; Artificial Intelligence – AIAI today, is like an iceberg. We only see the exposed part whereas most of what’s happening lies below the surface. But make no mistake, it’s taking a hold on our lives. The exposed part is what we understand and see through our smart phones and partly through our exposure to the developing Internet of Things -IoT. But most of it is happening beyond our sight and vision. I therefore felt a need to share some thoughts in what I hope will be a series of Posts and Articles on the Ethical issues around AI and today, I thought I would begin this journey. 

 The first area I thought I would talk about is Profiling based on information gathered about us by the Tech Companies and fed into big data analytics and algorithms. This is the first phase of AI and it’s information gathering. It is the foundation from which the future is being launched. Is this gathered with our full knowledge, understanding and complete transparency of what’s being done with it? 

 We have all become used to a click of the Mouse button on the “I Agree“ Tab. The tons of terms and conditions and disclaimers which precedes the “I Agree “ tab is probably crafted by a Legal Army and amount to signing away our rights and privacy in so many ways . But it’s simply too onerous for most of us to comprehend so we take the easier option of following the herd and picking the “ I Agree “ Tab . 

 So now begins the act of making a digital sketch of our profile by the machines aided by complex algorithms. This profiling gets smarter as the machine gets past its stupidity curve and rapidly shapes that profile. So the machines learn our browsing, shopping, media , sports, educational, intellectual, entertainment and every other possible preferences . 

As I thought about this over a period the ethical questions which began to bother me are:

  • Do we know what is done with our information which is gathered after that first click on that all important “I Agree“ Tab? 
  •  What if the digital profile is not like me at all and it’s only a half- baked profile of me- for it misses out my human aspects. My ability to be sensitive, compassionate, empathise and change course midway .What if the digital me is quite far removed from the real me? 
  •  What if all our digital profiles are categorised, clubbed and analysed and our collective behaviours predicted and then directed towards a course which is actually quite different from the way we think as individuals. What if the collective is nowhere close to the individual sums of each of us?
  •  What therefore prevents AI from becoming a sheepdog that channels us, the flock, in a direction unwittingly and unknowingly at the behest of the shepherd - the big Tech? 

 I think we all need to be conscious and think for ourselves. We should not leave such ethical questions to the assumption that there is safety in numbers. Too many to collectively make a mistake will result in a colossal error. There is a need to have a simple and understandable translation of these onerous terms, conditions and disclaimers. What are we giving up ? Not in legalese but just plain language. Regulators need to ensure we know what’s done with our data and our digital profiles. 

That brings me to the central question – Can we have access to our digital profiles? I for one would like to know what a machine relying on Algorithms sees as my digital self. So cant this "I Agree" be a two way process enabling me to access my own profile?

 As I said in the beginning, we are still at the start of what’s will be a rapidly expanding but long long journey. However, we need to acquaint ourselves with what lies ahead. 

 So remember the analogy of the flock of sheep, the sheepdog and the shepherd and think before taking what has become the almost obligatory step of clicking on “I Agree” 

 

This series will continue…. 

 

 



Mr. Arvind Chopra
Senior Technical Advisor
SCV&Co.LLP