How tech giants are devising real ethics for artificial intelligence

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For years, science-fiction movie-makers have been making us fear the bad things that artificially intelligent (AI) machines might do to their human creators. But for the next decade or two, our biggest concern is more likely to be that robots will take away our jobs or bump into us on the highway.
Now five of the world’s largest tech companies are trying to create a standard of ethics around the creation of artificial intelligence. While science fiction has focused on the existential threat of AI to humans, researchers at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and those from Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft have been meeting to discuss more tangible issues, such as the impact of AI on jobs, transportation and even warfare.
Tech companies have long over promised what artificially intelligent machines can do. In recent years, however, the AI field has made rapid advances in a range of areas, from self-driving cars and machines that understand speech, like Amazon’s Echo device, to a new generation of weapons systems that threaten to automate combat.
The specifics of what the industry group will do or say – even its name – have yet to be hashed out. But the basic intention is clear: to ensure that AI research is focused on benefiting people, not hurting them, according to four people involved in the creation of the industry partnership who are not authorized to speak about it publicly.
The importance of the industry effort is underscored in a report issued on Thursday by a Stanford University group funded by Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher who is one of the executives in the industry discussions. The Stanford project, called the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence, lays out a plan to produce a detailed report on the impact of AI on society every five years for the next century.
One main concern for people in the tech industry would be if regulators jumped in to create rules around their AI work. So they are trying to create a framework for a self-policing organisation, though it is not clear yet how that will function. ”We’re not saying that there should be no regulation,” said Peter Stone, a computer scientist at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of the Stanford report. ”We’re saying that there is a right way and a wrong way.”
While the tech industry is known for being competitive, there have been instances when companies have worked together when it was in their best interests. In the 1990s, for example, tech companies agreed on a standard method for encrypting… read full story

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