Google unit launches group to explore ethical impacts of AI

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An artificial intelligence research company owned by Google-parent Alphabet is launching a new division to examine the ethical impacts of AI.

DeepMind’s new research unit, “Ethics & Society,” will push to “help technologists put ethics into practice” with the goal of helping “society anticipate and direct the impact of AI so that it works for the benefit of all.”


DeepMind has assembled a team of fellows for the project. Advisers include economist Jeffrey Sachs, climate change proponent Christiana Figueres and James Manyika, the chair of the McKinsey Global Institute.

“These Fellows are important not only for the expertise that they bring but for the diversity of thought they represent,” the research company said in a statement.

The unit’s goals will be shaped around its five principles: social benefit, being rigorous and evidence based, transparency and diversity.

“This isn’t a quest for closed solutions but rather an attempt to scrutinise and help design collective responses to the future impacts of AI technologies,” the London-based company wrote in a blogpost.

Ethicists and researchers have grappled with the implications of AI technology, such as scrutinizing the idea of self-driving cars having to pick which human lives to save in cases where accidents are inevitable.

Last year, Julia Angwin led a team at ProPublica that looked at the impact of racism in criminal justice algorithms. Also in 2016, Kate Crawford and Ryan Calo wrote a paper exploring the risks of AI.

Technology CEOs have also publicly debated the potential impacts of the technology. Earlier this year, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg clashed over the looming ramification that AI could have in the long term.

“AI is the rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’ll be too late,” Musk said in July. “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.”


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