Artificial intelligence is one of humankind’s greatest creations. It’s potential uses are endless. It can answer our phone calls for us, set up our calendars, drive our cars, run our businesses and anything else in between. In short, artificial intelligence is any computer software or program that is designed to take on tasks that would normally require a human brain.
In theory, and in practice, artificial intelligence has many uses. Your smartphone (iPhone or Android phone) uses artificial intelligence by a different name: Siri and Google Assistant. Amazon’s Alexa is another artificial intelligence assistant designed to assist end users on a day-to-day basis. But AI goes far beyond taking down notes or playing your favorite songs. Developers are looking for ways to utilize AI as a solution to enterprise-level situations. But, as this technology continues to advance, many are afraid that it will overtake humans altogether.
While this may sound like the premise of a dystopian novel, at least a few high-profile professionals in the tech space are lending credence to this theory. Tesla co-founder, Elon Musk, has shown his concern, claiming that AI poses a greater threat to humanity than nuclear warheads. Regardless of whether these fears are warranted or not, there is an undeniable issue with AI that doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention: discrimination.
Artificial intelligence is, unfortunately, being developed predominantly by white men, leading to a lack of diversity in programming. For example, according to an article from The Guardian, 80% of AI professors are male, and only 2.5% of Google’s workforce (a major player in AI) is African-American. This has led to some disastrous situations, such as Microsoft’s Tay AI robot using racial slurs on Twitter when interacting with users.
The issue stems back to ethics, and the responsibility that developers carry to factor in racial biases. And with AI’s recent popularity, several philanthropists are donating to AI development efforts. In fact, more than $500 million has been donated to AI between 2015 and 2018. To be fair, these philanthropists are donating with the best intentions, looking for ways to improve the lives of humans. The problem is, a portion of the donations should be given to the ethics behind AI, not its programming and development.
Luckily, there are philanthropists that are very aware of this problem, and are spending a great deal of money on trying to fix the issue. For example, Steve Schwarzman, founder of Blackstone, has donated $150 million to the creation of the Institute for Ethics in AI; the program is designed to study and develop the ways in which AI affects all varieties of people and, hopefully, eliminate prejudices and racial stereotypes and promote diversity. Musk, who is very clearly aware of the pitfalls of AI, has already begun a similar institution, OpenAI. OpenAI has a goal similar to that of Schwarzman’s Institute, but instead focuses on the creation of an actual neural network that can be used as a guidebook for others looking to utilize ethical AI.
While we’re sure no one in the AI industry is actively looking to promote prejudice, that doesn’t diminish the fact that they accidentally are. Philanthropic endeavors in this field are far better suited to the ethical behaviors of AI, as opposed to developing new and fancy tech. Hopefully these new programs will get even more funding and erase the human error from the computer programs of tomorrow.