11 links to dive into the ethics of artificial intelligence

So many links… The Swiss start-up Refind proposes to deal with them in new ways. Refind offers not only social bookmarking, but also curation. In their section “Deep dives”, experts share a link selection of approximately 10 articles in their domain.

When I was asked to provide ten such links about the ethics of artificial intelligence, I was delighted to do so. Delighted… but also challenged. Because it is impossible to do justice [pun intended] to “AI ethics” via 10 websites.

Therefore, my selection is not meant to be exhaustive but to be just that: a selection. Its aim is to provide a rich overview of crucial issues, perspectives and criticisms in the field of “AI ethics” to people who have not already been studying them. I invite you to not simply evaluate each article linked in isolation, but to see my selection as a collection that derives value from being more than the sum of its parts. I have come up with a list of links where each one contributes a different piece to the puzzle, which should be even more insighful if read in the suggested order.

To get a thorny issue out of the way: I have not been paid by Refind for this work (though I was upgraded to a Premium membership upon asking) and have agreed to participate based on two reasons: 1) Contingent on my availability I am happy to support (Swiss) start-ups whose mission and values I share… and David Bauer, who is in charge of product and content strategy at Refind, contacted me at a time when my calendar pretended to be able to accommodate such requests (thank you for your patience, David). 2) The selection of websites I would put together for the “Ethics of Artificial Intelligence Deep Dive” on Refind could also be shared on my blog. This means that you do not have to join Refind to access my link selection. (Then again, I find the way Refind works very compelling myself and have no problem recommending it to others.)

Ethics of AI on Refind (screenshot)Before you sign up (for free) on Refind or read on (below, also for free), you might like to know that my collection has been categorized as being at “intermediate level”. The average reading time per article is estimated at 8 minutes. To keep things interesting, I have included various formats: 2 academic articles (yes, you read that right: only 2!), 1 guide, 1 interview, 1 collection of perspectives and positions, 2 long-form media essays, 3 blog articles, and 1 other website.

If you kept track, you will have realized that I cheated: I included 11 articles, not 10. When I started to list AI ethics articles that I thought essential, I started out with several dozens of references from my Zotero library. Then I eliminated, shuffled, and eliminated again until I reached a point where I could not bring myself to eliminate any more links. So eleven it is.

Eleven links. Only eleven links. About the ethics of artificial intelligence. An impossible choice, and chances are that you disagree with my selection. Therefore, if you want to recommend any articles and websites that you feel are unduly left out of the collection, please add your suggestions in the comments. And before you scold me too harshly, please take note that I eliminated my own writing first. Indeed, my Refind collection does not include

Why? Because I figured that if you did not know my work, you would end up checking out my profile anyway after (hopefully) finding my recommendations pertinent… and if you were interested in my recommendations because you already knew my work anyway, there was no need to “waste” a precious spot in my link collection.

So this is the context. Without further ado, below are the eleven articles about the ethics of artificial intelligence I recommend you read in the suggested order.

 

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In lieu of an introduction: 1 link that will provide you with an overview of many issues and viewpoints

Instead of a general introduction, I suggest to jump into the cold water via a prominent case study to get an overall idea about the breadth of perspectives. Following Google’s AI failed initiative to establish an Advanced Technology External Advisory Council (ATEAC), the MIT Technology Review asked several experts about what Google should be doing next. The answers provides an overview of many of the perspectives and ethical issues that are at stake in discussions about ethics and artificial intelligence. What is more, this case study also deserves renewed focus based on recent events.

 

A guide

This is an overview in a more classic format: a guide. It is an excellent one at that, providing numerous helpful links and resources I encourage you to check out. Moreover, this is only part 1 out of 3, and it goes without saying that part 2 and part 3 are just as great. So in a sense, this is the link recommendation that allowes me to bypass the initial constraint of ten (or eleven) links by simply also recommending you to check out the links in this guide.

 

Specific focus points, providing a more in-depth perspective on particular issues

  • AI Ethics: Seven Traps

    by Annette Zimmermann and Bendert Zevenbergen, Freedom to Tinker (Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy)
    March 25, 2019

Perhaps just as interesting as the ethics of artificial intelligence is the question of what is not. This article explains how not to do AI ethics via seven “traps”, seven perspectives that betray the very idea of AI ethics.

 

Is “AI ethics” a hype? Perhaps — but in that case, then so is artificial intelligence. Because one could argue that we are only talking about the importance of ethics for AI because of the importance of AI itself… This short article demonstrates very clearly why hyping AI is an ethical issue in and of itself.

 

The subtitle of this article is: “Those who could be exploited by AI should be shaping its projects.” It centers on a crucial high-level issue of AI ethics: power. I already told Nature Machine Intelligence why I think this piece is so significant:

Although the illusion that ‘ethical AI’ is simply a technological matter still lingers, 2020 has seen an important push towards broader acceptance of the sociotechnicity of AI. Acknowledging the sociotechnical nature of AI systems requires us, as Pratyusha Kalluri put it succinctly, to centre less on fairness, or on ‘AI for good’, and more on power distribution and power differentials.

More on power, or: AI is not created, deployed, and used in a void

Because “ethical AI” is not simply a technical issue to be fixed, it is important to understand the context in which decisions about artificial intelligence are being made. This interview provides insights into one crucial such context: Silicon Valley. (Bonus point: It explains the flaws of the netflix movie The Social Dilemma — which is an important detail in the context of AI ethics in view of the movie’s success, lest The Social Dilemma and its protagonists are taken at face value. Because they definitely shouldn’t.)

 

Speaking of where decisions about artificial intelligence are made : This essay presents a much needed focus on whose values are, or are not, embedded in AI systems. I remember reading it for the first time in summer 2019. A few months earlier, we had wrapped up our analysis of AI ethics guidelines, which demonstrated an over-representation of more economically developed countries in the AI ethics debate via published guidelines. I was struck by this in-depth exploration, which shows just how much the current AI landscape is both rooted in and perpetuating specific perspectives at the expense of others. However, a technology of global importance should be shaped globally, and not impose one set of values unilaterally.

 

Can AI be made ethical, and if yes: how? Simply aiming at designing, implementing and using it “for social good” is not enough. Indeed, “AI for (Social) Good” is no panacea, and there are several good pieces criticizing aspects of AI4good (or AI4SG). I chose this one because it goes beyond questioning the effectivenes of such initiatives: it demonstrates in a well-researched study why and how “AI for Social Good” can even end up doing more harm than good. Click here to get directly to the pdf. (Full disclosure, although I was not aware of this when I picked this article: one co-author has since become my colleague at the HIIG.)

 

Critiques of AI ethics

Any deep dive into the ethics of artificial intelligence worth its name must reflect critically on its own enterprise. This article addresses the topic of “ethics-washing“, in particular: the framing and agenda-setting  in the domain of “Ethical AI” by Big Tech.

 

This is a recent, astute evaluation of failing AI ethics initiatives and, thus, of the failing of AI ethics itself. It is both brilliant and brutal, and adds a necessary perspective to any discussion of ethics of artificial intelligence.

 

Last but not least

This is not a link to a typical “AI ethics” contribution, and yet I can think of no better piece to finish this selection on ethics in artificial intelligence with, except perhaps the forthcoming book Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence. It masterfully surfaces and interweaves the material, economic, social, and symbolic dimensions of one particular AI system. Ethical issues everywhere.

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