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article imageDeveloping ethics for tech industry must begin in the classroom

By Tim Sandle     Jun 1, 2019 in Technology
Boston - How can the the technology sector ensure that ethical principles are built into the design of products and, most importantly, with the shape of artificial intelligence? According to one academic, this must begin at school.
Given the prevalence of technology in our lives it is important that technology works for society and reflects the prevailing values of society. To address these concerns, some technology firms employ ethicists to sit on boards with the aim of picking up on issues that are complex and which might influence things beyond the firm. This is a step too late, according to philosophy professor Abby Everett Jaques (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He argues that the engineers and computer scientists of tomorrow need to appreciate the pitfalls of technology sooner rather than later. To show what can be done, Professor Jaques has established a class at MIT called Ethics of Technology.
Technology is not a neutral force. Technology can be non-neutral due to its design, reflecting some values of its creator; or it can be that the implementation of technology can lead to, inadvertently or otherwise, non-neutral effects. Some philosophers even go so far to state that technology determines the development of social structure and cultural values.
Then there are more immediate issues, such as the prevailing power of technology in the form of social media and the debate around the degree to which this is affecting people's mental health, plus the issues around privacy and surveillance. Another issue is the form that artificial intelligence will take and the situations that may arise where AI could potentially harm people. Then there are the studies that show some forms of facial recognition technology misidentify dark-skinned people ("Actionable Auditing: Investigating the Impact of Publicly Naming Biased Performance Results of Commercial AI Products.")
The new class aims to get to grips with some of these issues. Professor Jaques explains: "How do we gain the benefits tech offers while protecting against the accompanying harms? Some of those harms are the kinds of things sci-fi movies are built on, with robot overlords and all that, but some appear more innocuous (and are already here)."
One aspects of the class, which Professor Jaques discussed with NPR, is about the importance of technology in terms of respecting minorities, be that with an app being able to recognize a transgender person or with the use of technology to create fake news, as with deepfake videos. By getting young people to engage with these issues, Jaques hopes to reinforce the ethical dimension when it comes to technological development and its application.
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