AI, Ethics, and Us
Knowing how creators and engineers approach their responsibilities when building artificial intelligence provides an ethical foundation for the future.
When the discussion turns to concepts of artificial intelligence and the ethics involved therein, most people’s education begins and ends with the villainous HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this current technological climate, though, it’s very much a necessity that young students learn and absorb the notions behind how artificial intelligence is responsibly created, programmed, and utilized, and the vital reverberations the industry has throughout the world. As Empow Studios has discovered, there’s much more to AI & Ethics than a rogue cinematic computer.
AI has moved significantly beyond simply a passing phenomenon— it’s a 21st century technology that has entered the consumer market in a myriad of ways, from auto-piloting in a Tesla vehicle to having a conversation with Alexa or Siri. If people—students, particularly—are learning the right way to go about the design thinking process of creating emerging tech, it’ll be an advantage for all of us in the future. Undoubtedly, it’ll better prepare young folks for tackling the financial, social, and climate challenges we face on a global level.
In Empow’s AI & Ethics programs, formed as a part of a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Personal Robots group, students can learn how technologies like AI require a certain level of ethics and morality when aiding in the designing or coding of an application. Whether it’s a content recommendation engine, facial recognition system, or mobile personal assistants, the technology must have high success rates and generate user-friendly experiences, and needs to work for the purpose of making our lives more convenient, meaningful, and fun…not for the disrupting or denigrating of existing systems, operations, and actual lives. The program also focuses its curriculum around advanced technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and the IoT, which is the “internet of things,” a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals, or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
It was our goal to make the program diverse and accessible…there’s definitely an audience of young people who are compelled by these subjects.
When MIT reached out to Empow Studios with thoughts of working on an AI & Ethics program, the pairing seemed like a natural fit. “We’ve always had a great relationship with MIT’s Personal Robots group, so when they approached us with the idea, we were ecstatic,” reveals Empow Executive Director, Dave Gutierrez, who helped shepherd the project. “It was our goal to make the program diverse and accessible in terms of cost, location, and demographic. The class we conducted on the MIT campus was really successful in that it showed us there’s definitely an audience of young people who are compelled by these subjects.”
Although it may seem challenging and esoteric to attempt development of an advanced technology like Artificial Intelligence, Gutierrez notes that “it’s really the intent of the solution that often has crucial pitfalls,” one of which can be the ethical process/production of the application design itself. If an AI application, for example, is only working effectively for one audience or demographic and working poorly for another, that becomes a question of ethics. Students enrolled in the program will have opportunities to conduct testing sessions and collect data to learn what needs to be improved, to learn how to render applications inclusive and intuitive, and how to manage the human responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with the language and theory of robots and computers. Even HAL would have to admit that’s pretty impressive.