Should we allow drones to become the new paparazzi?
Can one patent a human gene?
This is the moral dilemmas of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As we enter the new machine age, we need a new set of codified morals to become the global norm.
We already have some initiatives: in 2016 America’s Carnegie Mellon University announced a new centre studying the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence; under President Obama, the White House published a paper on the same topic; and tech-giants like Facebook and Google have announced a partnership to draw up an ethical framework for AI.
The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.
A blurring of the physical, digital and biological is surrounding the “cyber-physical systems” (Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum)
Humanity will soon be on the cusp of re-thinking morals – an Ethics 2.0. As we embrace this machine age, we will need be confronted by new ethical challenges, calling for new laws.
Ethics derived from philosophy or religion do not easily fit into the world of technology. The world of science also has its share of attempts, from Asimov’s Three Laws for Robots to Nick Bostrom’s work on ethics.
But any established set of rules tends to run into dilemmas, such these ethical decisions, which will face us:
Life Sciences. Should gene editing be legal to manipulate the human race and create “designer babies”? Cancer researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee, in his critically acclaimed book The Gene, highlighted the deep ethical questions that advances in genome science will pose. The list of ethical questions is long: what if a pre-natal test predicted your child would have an IQ of 80 points, well below average, unless you undertook a little editing? What if these technologies were limited to only a wealthy people?
AI, machine learning and data. Over time, Artificial Intelligence will help us make all kinds of decisions. But how do we ensure these algorithms are fairly designed? How do we iron out biases from such systems, which will eventually be used to determine job promotions, college admissions and even our choice of a life partner?
Should the local police use facial recognition software? Should predictive policing based on algorithms be legal? What impact will this have on our privacy? Will cutting-edge technology in the hands of local law enforcement usher in the era of the surveillance state?
Bots and Machines. How do we decide what driverless cars can decide? How do we decide what Robots can decide? Will there be a need for the robot equivalent of a Bill of Rights? What about the rights of humans to marry robots and of robots to own property? Should a highly advanced Cyborg be allowed to run for political office?
There is a need for a structured international forum to form a list of technologies that need governance, to evaluate each technology and release a blueprint for its code of conduct. So far we have taken different approaches (e.g. from worldwide banning on human cloning to partial restrictions on GM Foods).
Humanity will face questions it hasn’t had to answer yet. We need to start having the conversation now.
If we do not face the questions now, we face several risks. We risk losing tremendous power to machines. We risk altering the course of humanity without fully understanding the consequences. We risk creating massive inequality between the “techno super-rich” and a large underclass.
Traditionally, technology progress outpaces the political process… We cannot afford to be blind-sided by the next frontiers, be it in biotechnology or AI. Our future is increasingly being scripted by engineers and entrepreneurs, who are not necessarily being held to account.
It is up to us to decide how to use it and where to draw the line.
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