Ethics in AI

This article from Quartz came into my phone's news feed this morning. AI conferences are beginning to think about ethics. Finally. Specifically, the premier machine learning conference NIPS requires a broader impact on society statement for presented research. One of the top natural language processing conferences, EMNLP, will now reject papers on ethical grounds. Whether these moves actually keep AI ethical or just push the dirty parts underground remains to be seen. But we all have a voice in keeping each other in check. 

When I was a PhD student, our advisor had us sit in on talks by prospective faculty and arranged for the prospect to meet with just the students. I remember one young man boasting of one NLP project after the other, each more horribly intrusive on innocent lives than the last. All of these done in internships with a major computer manufacturer. Finally, when we got to questions, I asked him, "Can you describe any project you have done which makes the world a better place." He was taken aback but managed to mumble something about helping the corporation make more money.

Leaving the meeting, one of my male peers said 'Wow Karen, high five, you had a lot of balls to ask that question.' The truth is I was uncomfortable asking that question, it felt aggressive and I normally try to just be invisible and mind my own business. But as this article points out, the degree to which we hold each other accountable is the degree to which ethics may be at least be some factor in the equation of research.


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