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Experts stress urgency of ethical studies on AI

Author  :  PAN YUEFEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2019-11-11

As an important force driving a new round of technological revolution and industrial reform, artificial intelligence has been widely applied to diverse industries and fields. Generating profound influence on human society, it has posed new challenges to current laws and regulations, ethical standards and social life. In this context, ethical studies on AI have drawn growing attention in academia. 

Yan Qingshan, a professor of philosophy from East China Normal University, noted several issues of concern. The first is to overcome ethical panic. Since it is difficult for most people to understand the basic principles of AI, they often interpret it inappropriately based on misunderstandings of the technology, so how to publicize AI principles is worth discussing.

Second it is essential to discuss what AI cannot do, Yan said. If people cannot give a definite answer to a particular question, they shouldn’t expect robots to offer a better one. 

In addition, Yan underscored the importance of providing AI studies room to develop and distinguishing AI research from AI application.

The biggest problem facing the development of AI stems not from technological bottlenecks but from the relationship between AI and humanity, which has brought into being AI ethics and cross-anthropological ethical problems, said Lan Jiang, a professor from the Department of Philosophy at Nanjing University. 

Lan said that AI ethics is vastly different from traditional ethics. It examines neither interpersonal relations nor the relationship between humanity and established facts in nature, but the correlation between humanity and the products we invent.

Li Lun, a professor from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Dalian University of Technology, said that existing ethical theories might fail to solve some problems caused by AI, forming a so-called “theoretical vacuum,” so it is urgent to accelerate ethical studies on AI. 

He added that ethical studies on AI include moral philosophy, moral algorithmic design, design ethics and the ethics of applying the technology. This cross-disciplinary research field entails cooperation among multiple disciplines and sectors to jointly promote its development.

“The ethical risks of AI are not fictional,” said Duan Weiwen, a research fellow from the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Blind optimism about AI will lead to negligence or ignorance of the technology’s latent risks for individuals and society; these resultant ethical risks will eventually give rise to irreversible consequences, Duan said. This will undermine the whole society’s trust in AI and discourage the public from developing emerging technologies.

Tian Haiping, a professor of philosophy from Beijing Normal University, pointed out that the top priority of ethical studies on AI should be to build a framework for regulators’ guidance of AI ethics. Many knotty problems triggered by AI can only be nipped in the bud under the guidance of “AI regulators.”

Yan said that the extensive application of AI and its integration with other technologies such as virtual reality and the internet of things will necessarily revolutionize social structures. Hence ethical studies on AI should focus on the possibility of a brand-new society (society formed from extended reality) and related ethical issues, economic and political ethical problems brought about by changes in social structures, and the moral status of AI in the extended reality. 


(Edited by CHEN MIRONG)

Editor: Yu Hui

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