Perhaps the most frequent objection to the development of artificial intelligence is the lack of certainty over whether such a powerful innovation will genuinely be good for humanity. Who is responsible if an AI-powered device harms someone? How will we ever know whether AI can behave morally? Where should AI be put to use, and where is it better off left out?
These are fundamental questions that yield many different answers from experts in the field of Artificial Intelligence Ethics. This field, which has exploded because of the rapid growth of artificial intelligence, explores the philosophical issues posed by this new technology.
As a Chief Ethics Officer at an artificial intelligence laboratory, I have dedicated time to address these problems. My mindset differs from that of many of my peers. The common approach would be to discuss the issues that artificial intelligence poses for social justice. Instead, I will explain three ways in which artificial intelligence can contribute positively toward social justice.
Artificial Intelligence in Public Infrastructure
The first application is within public infrastructure. Imagine if residences, businesses, and public areas were more efficient and sustainable. This shouldn’t take too much imagination as many places have begun to implement AI in this way and have seen how the technology can help to achieve these goals.
Let’s examine the following example: all humans rely on access to clean water. Therefore, cities must ensure that there always is safe water and that it can be transported to individuals. Typically, such a complex piece of infrastructure would take hundreds of people to generate consistent success: health officials, planners, engineers, architects, plumbers, to name a few.
However, if AI were put to use to determine when a water supply is not clean enough and how and where to transport water, this massive area of public infrastructure is suddenly less complex and more self-contained. Disasters such as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, could be avoided. And, keep in mind, this is only one strategy for using artificial intelligence in infrastructure.
Other strategies could involve the use of artificial intelligence in public transportation systems, which would undoubtedly save a great deal of time and money, or the use of AI in infrastructure development to ensure that a new hospital, for example, is constructed most efficiently and functionally possible.
Artificial Intelligence for Communication
The next way artificial intelligence could have profound effects on social justice is by using it in cross-cultural communication. The world is more connected than ever. The invention of the Internet and the subsequent online communication systems and social media platforms have brought about a new age of communication.
However, despite being able to send a message to nearly any person with internet access across the globe, one dilemma prevents human communication from always being successful: language. So how does artificial intelligence present a possible resolution to this problem?
AI+ethics is important, but has been partly hijacked by the AGI (artificial general intelligence) hype. Let's cut out the AGI nonsense and spend more time on the urgent problems: Job loss/stagnant wages, undermining democracy, discrimination/bias, wealth inequality.
— Andrew Ng (@AndrewYNg) June 11, 2018
The idea is quite simple. AI is capable of many impressive tasks, none of which is more relevant to this dilemma than natural language processing, which is the ability to understand words as they are written and spoken naturally. For cross-cultural communication, artificial intelligence can be a complete game-changer.
Imagine being able to speak into a mic with your words being translated via AI to text or speech, in real-time. Others could do the same, meaning that an English speaker could have a full conversation with a Mandarin speaker with no loss of literacy and no need for additional translation time.
This technology is already being developed and improved, and it will be exciting to see how AI can be used to unite the world in never-before-seen ways.
Artificial Intelligence and Emergencies
The third and final application for artificial intelligence that highlights its ability for a positive contribution towards social justice is within emergency response systems. There are two types of emergencies: natural emergencies, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and human-made emergencies, such as mass shootings and arson. For both types, AI could be applied to yield potent benefits.
For natural emergencies, artificial intelligence programs could be implemented to more accurately predict disasters. For example, one sign of a possible tsunami is coastal waters receding, revealing a part of the beach that is typically underwater. If a program were able to constantly keep track of this indicator and a long list of other potential indicators, it would be able to make intelligent predictions that could save money, property, and most importantly, human lives.
For human-made emergencies, AI could have a similar impact. One example is gunshot detection technology, which is already used in many American cities such as Los Angeles and Miami. Companies like ShotSpotter are working on developing programs that can observe a gunshot (with auditory and visual feeds), trace the shot to an approximate location, and notify law enforcement.
This technology has the power to reduce crime and improve community-law enforcement relationships, as there would likely be fewer false arrests as more accurate crime detection technology begins to be developed and utilized.
Importance of AI
Artificial intelligence is an innovation containing a world of possibilities. It will likely be viewed as the most important invention in human history since the wheel and electricity. But the reason for its importance is entirely up to humans.
Will it be because it was developed properly, with care for the people it would affect and the consequences it would have? Or will it be because it was too rapidly innovated upon, leaving little time to consider the ramifications of such a disruptive piece of technology?
Artificial intelligence can be put to use as a tool for promoting social justice and designing a more efficient human civilization, or it can be put to use as a profit-increasing mechanism for those with the fortune of creating it. The choice is up to us.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.