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AI Ethics: A Call to Faculty

By Illah Reza Nourbakhsh

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 64 No. 9, Pages 43-45

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This past year has seen a significant blossoming of discussions on the ethics of AI. In working groups and meetings spanning IEEE, ACM, U.N. and the World Economic Forum as well as a handful of governmental advisory committees, more intimate breakout sessions afford an opportunity to observe how we, as robotics and AI researchers, communicate our own relationship to ethics within a field teeming with possibilities of both benefit and harm. Unfortunately, many of these opportunities fail to realize authentic forward progress during discussions that repeat similar memes. Three common myths pervade such discussions, frequently stifling any synthesis: education is not needed; external regulation is undesirable; and technological optimism provides justifiable hope.

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The underlying good news is that discourse and curricular experimentation are now occurring at scales that were unmatched in the recent past. World Economic Forum working groups, under the leadership of Kay Firth-Butterfield, have convened a series of expert-driven policy productions are topics including, for instance, the ethical use of chatbots in the medical field and in the financial sector. The IEEE Global Initiative on the Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, led by John Havens, continues to make progress on international standards regarding the ethical application of robotics and AI. These are just two of dozens of ongoing international efforts. Curricular experiments have also garnered successful publication, from single-course pilots2 to whole-curricular interventions across required course sequences.3


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