During a free webinar in July 2019, MERIT and its global audience had the invaluable opportunity to hear Peter Collins, director of the Centre for Ethical Leadership in Melbourne, Australia, share illuminating insights into the challenges of artificial intelligence (AI) in the new era. During the webinar and in a lively Q&A session towards the end, Peter explored some of the most contentious and difficult issues relating to AI and liability, ethical decision-making, privacy, and redundancies stemming from the rise of the fourth industrial revolution.
At the crossroads between opportunity and challenge
The rise of smarter technologies and AI has created new development opportunities for business and communities across the world. However, with great power comes great responsibility. Not only governments, but also businesses and the public alike are demanding more accountability in the way AI technologies are used, trying to find a solution to the legal and ethical issues that will arise from the growing integration of AI in people’s work and daily lives.
What issues stand out as AI technologies spreads through the public and private sector?
While the spread of AI and the ubiquitous automation in countless industries create unlimited opportunities for radical advancement in almost every aspect of human existence today, they also pose ethical challenges to our workplaces and broader society. The strategies used in the past to make organisational decisions, educate, and lead people, need an urgent overhaul in unison with the new demands of the ethically complex maze of the contemporary world. As liability, job losses, privacy, and discrimination have become largely polarising topics in the global conversation about the spread of AI and its impact, we as a society need to consider updating how we think about ethics and how we act on ethical principles.
It’s not always black and white
The webinar was designed to create a broad and nuanced context for the audience to think about the complexity of the issues that arise when companies and organisations consider how to navigate various challenging situations in the new era. “Ethics needs to undertake an overhaul of its content and methodology if we are to deal fully with the challenges of AI and automation,” Collins pointed out. He discussed in detail why companies in various industries tend to make poor ethical decisions and listed the lack of preparation and failure to provide a comprehensive approach as two of the main issues.
He directed the webinar participants’ attention to a classic trap in ethics: “Many people dress up self-interest as an ethical principle and afterwards package it up as a part of some larger principle.” Collins prompted the audience members in leadership and HR roles to think consciously about introducing revised ethical decision-making frameworks and ethics committees within their organisations. “We’re not as prepared as we ought to be to navigate such complex ethical scenarios,” Collins said.
Could machines make better ethical decisions than humans?
Even though the case could be made that the growing adoption of AI-driven technologies in both the private and the public sectors and the automation of more and more processes across industries do impact society in a negative way, Collins also spoke about the moral psychology of ethics.
He touched upon the undeniable issue that human beings can be ethically unreliable and might not make optimal decisions due to physiological factors in unpredictable situations, such as cognitive overload or physical exhaustion. Collins also pointed out that “we [humans] tend to rationalise immoral decisions” and challenged the webinar participants to consider whether AI beings could potentially be more ethical than human beings.
He spoke about how the very concept of a job might evolve with the growing influence of AI across the globe and referred the audience to several resources that might be helpful when devising a new framework for ethical decision making in various contexts.
Ethical decision making and AI: how can organisations improve their strategies?
In a lively Q&A session, Peter Collins tackled questions about ethics in organisations in the fourth industrial revolution and improving decision-making processes in the context of AI. Some of the most pressing ones are:
- Could AI beings be more ethical than human beings? (min 41:40)
- What opportunities does AI create for HR? (min 44:39)
- What should talent development professionals implement within their organisations to improve ethical decision making in the context of AI? (46:17)
- How will AI impact people management and leadership? (min 47:29)
- What is an example of an ethical framework a company can use? (min 48:56)
- How could people introduce ethical definitions for the fourth industrial revolution to society? (min 50:10)