Ethical Guidelines for Artificial Intelligence Research
The most complete set of AI ethics developed to date, the twenty-three Asilomar Principles, was created by the Future of Life Institute in early 2017 at their Asilomar Conference. Ninety percent or more of the attendees at the conference had to agree upon a principle for it to be accepted. The first five of the agreed-upon principles pertain to AI research issues.
Although all twenty-three principles are important, the research issues are especially time sensitive. That is because AI research is already well underway by hundreds, if not thousands of different groups. There is a current compelling need to have some general guidelines in place for this research. AI Ethics Work Should Begin Now. We still have a little time to develop guidelines for the advanced AI products and services expected in the near future, but as to research, the train has already left the station.
Asilomar Research Principles
Other groups are concerned with AI ethics and regulation, including research guidelines. See the Draft Principles page of AI-Ethics.com which lists principles from six different groups. The five draft principles developed by Asilomar are, however, a good place to start examining the regulation needed for research.
1) Research Goal: The goal of AI research should be to create not undirected intelligence, but beneficial intelligence.
2) Research Funding: Investments in AI should be accompanied by funding for research on ensuring its beneficial use, including thorny questions in computer science, economics, law, ethics, and social studies, such as:
- How can we make future AI systems highly robust, so that they do what we want without malfunctioning or getting hacked?
- How can we grow our prosperity through automation while maintaining people’s resources and purpose?
- How can we update our legal systems to be more fair and efficient, to keep pace with AI, and to manage the risks associated with AI?
- What set of values should AI be aligned with, and what legal and ethical status should it have?
3) Science-Policy Link: There should be constructive and healthy exchange between AI researchers and policy-makers.
4) Research Culture: A culture of cooperation, trust, and transparency should be fostered among researchers and developers of AI.
5) Race Avoidance: Teams developing AI systems should actively cooperate to avoid corner-cutting on safety standards.
Principle One: Research Goal
The proposed first principle is good, but the wording? Not so much. The goal of AI research should be to create not undirected intelligence, but beneficial intelligence. This is a double-negative English language mishmash that only an engineer could love. Here is one way this principle could be better articulated:
Research Goal: The goal of AI research should be the creation of beneficial intelligence, not undirected intelligence.
Researchers should develop intelligence that is beneficial for all of mankind. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) first general principle is entitled “Human Benefit.” The Asilomar first principle is slightly different. It does not really say human benefit. Instead it refers to beneficial intelligence. I think the intent is to be more inclusive, to include all life on earth, all of earth. Although IEEE has that covered too in their background statement of purpose to “Prioritize the maximum benefit to humanity and the natural environment.”
Pure research, where raw intelligence is created just for the hell of it, with no intended helpful “direction” of any kind, should be avoided. Because we can is not a valid goal. Pure, raw intelligence, with neither good intent, nor bad, is not the goal here. The research goal is beneficial intelligence. Asilomar is saying that Undirected intelligence is unethical and should be avoided. Social values must be built into the intelligence. This is subtle, but important.
The restriction to beneficial intelligence is somewhat controversial, but the other side of this first principle is not. Namely, that research should not be conducted to create intelligence that is hostile to humans. No one favors detrimental, evil intelligence. So, for example, the enslavement of humanity by Terminator AIs is not an acceptable research goal. I don’t care how bad you think our current political climate is.
To be slightly more realistic, if you have a secret research goal of taking over the world, such as Max Tegmark imagines in The Tale of the Omega Team in his book, Life 3.0, and we find out, we will shut you down (or try to). Even if it is all peaceful and well-meaning, and no one gets hurt, as Max visualizes, plotting world domination by machines is not a positive value. If you get caught researching how to do that, some of the more creative prosecuting lawyers around will find a way to send you to jail. We have all seen the cheesy movies, and so have the juries, so do not tempt us.
Keep a positive, pro-humans, pro-Earth, pro-freedom goal for your research. I do not doubt that we will someday have AI smarter than our existing world leaders, perhaps sooner than many expect, but that does not justify a machine take-over. Wisdom comes slowly and is different than intelligence.
Still, what about autonomous weapons? Is research into advanced AI in this area beneficial? Are military defense capabilities beneficial? Pro-security? Is the slaughter of robots not better than the slaughter of humans? Could robots be more ethical at “soldiering” than humans? As attorney Matt Scherer has noted, who is the editor of a good blog, LawAndAI.com and a Future of Life Institute member:
Autonomous weapons are going to inherently be capable of reacting on time scales that are shorter than humans’ time scales in which they can react. I can easily imagine it reaching the point very quickly where the only way that you can counteract an attack by an autonomous weapon is with another autonomous weapon. Eventually, having humans involved in the military conflict will be the equivalent of bringing bows and arrows to a battle in World War II.
At that point, you start to wonder where human decision makers can enter into the military decision making process. Right now there’s very clear, well-established laws in place about who is responsible for specific military decisions, under what circumstances a soldier is held accountable, under what circumstances their commander is held accountable, on what circumstances the nation is held accountable. That’s going to become much blurrier when the decisions are not being made by human soldiers, but rather by autonomous systems. It’s going to become even more complicated as machine learning technology is incorporated into these systems, where they learn from their observations and experiences in the field on the best way to react to different military situations.
Podcast: Law and Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (Future of Life, 3/31/17).
The question of beneficial or not can become very complicated, fast. Like it or not, military research into killer robots is already well underway, in both the public and private sector. Kalashnikov Will Make an A.I.-Powered Killer Robot: What could possibly go wrong? (Popular Mechanics, 7/19/17); Congress told to brace for ‘robotic soldiers’ (The Hill, 3/1/17); US military reveals it hopes to use artificial intelligence to create cybersoldiers and even help fly its F-35 fighter jet – but admits it is ALREADY playing catch up (Daily Mail, 12/15/15) (a little dated, and sensationalistic article perhaps, but easy read with several videos).
AI weapons are a fact, but they should still be regulated, in the same way that we have regulated nuclear weapons since WWII. Tom Simonite, AI Could Revolutionize War as Much as Nukes (Wired, 7/19/17); Autonomous Weapons: an Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers.
Principle Two: Research Funding
The second principle of Funding is more than an enforcement mechanism for the first, that you should only fund beneficial AI. It is also a recognition that ethical work requires funding too. This should be every lawyer’s favorite AI ethics principle. Investments in AI should be accompanied by funding for research on ensuring its beneficial use, including thorny questions in computer science, economics, law, ethics, and social studies. The principle then adds a list of five bullet-point examples.
How can we make future AI systems highly robust, so that they do what we want without malfunctioning or getting hacked. The goal of avoiding the creation of AI systems that can be hacked, easily or not, is a good one. If a hostile power can take over and misuse an AI for evil end, then the built-in beneficence may be irrelevant. The example of a driverless car come to mind that could be hacked and crashed as a perverse joy-ride, kidnapping or terrorist act.
The economic issues raised by the second example are very important: How can we grow our prosperity through automation while maintaining people’s resources and purpose? We do not want a system that only benefits the top one percent, or top ten percent, or whatever. It needs to benefit everyone, or at least try to. Also see Asilomar Principle Fifteen: Shared Prosperity: The economic prosperity created by AI should be shared broadly, to benefit all of humanity.
Yoshua Bengio, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Montreal, had this important comment to make on the Asilomar principles during an interview at the end of the conference:
I’m a very progressive person so I feel very strongly that dignity and justice mean wealth is redistributed. And I’m really concerned about AI worsening the effects and concentration of power and wealth that we’ve seen in the last 30 years. So this is pretty important for me.
I consider that one of the greatest dangers is that people either deal with AI in an irresponsible way or maliciously – I mean for their personal gain. And by having a more egalitarian society, throughout the world, I think we can reduce those dangers. In a society where there’s a lot of violence, a lot of inequality, the risk of misusing AI or having people use it irresponsibly in general is much greater. Making AI beneficial for all is very central to the safety question.
Most everyone at the Asilomar Conference agreed with that sentiment, but I do not yet see a strong consensus in AI businesses. Time will tell if profit motives and greed will at least be constrained by enlightened self-interest. Hopefully capitalist leaders will have the wisdom to share the great wealth with all of society that AI is likley to create.
How can we update our legal systems to be more fair and efficient, to keep pace with AI, and to manage the risks associated with AI? The legal example is also a good one, with the primary tension we see so far between fair versus efficient. Just policing high crime areas might well be efficient, at least for reducing some type of crime, but would it be fair? Do we want to embed racial profiling into our AI? Neighborhood slumlord profiling? Religious, ethic profiling? No. Existing law prohibits that and for good reason. Still, predictive policing is already a fact of life in many cities and we need to be sure it has proper legal, ethical regulation.
We have seen the tension between “speedy” and “inexpensive” on the one hand, and “just” on the other in Rule One of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and e-discovery. When applied using active machine learning a technical solution was attained to these competing goals. The predictive coding methods we developed allowed for both precision (“speedy” and “inexpensive”) and recall (“just”). Hopefully this success can be replicated in other areas of the law where machine learning is under proportional control by experienced human experts.
The final example given is much more troubling: What set of values should AI be aligned with, and what legal and ethical status should it have? Whose values? Who is to say what is right and wrong? This is easy in a dictatorship, or a uniform, monochrome culture (sea of white dudes), but it is very challenging in a diverse democracy. This may be the greatest research funding challenge of all.
Principle Three: Science-Policy Link
This principle is fairly straightforward, but will in practice require a great deal of time and effort to be done right. A constructive and healthy exchange between AI researchers and policy-makers is necessarily a two-way street. It first of all assumes that policy-makers, which in most countries includes government regulators, not just industry, have a valid place at the table. It assumes some form of government regulation. That is anathema to some in the business community who assume (falsely in our opinion) that all government is inherently bad and essentially has nothing to contribute. The countervailing view of overzealous government controllers who just want to jump in, uninformed, and legislate, is also discouraged by this principle. We are talking about a healthy exchange.
It does not take an AI to know this kind of give and take and information sharing will involve countless meetings. It will also require a positive healthy attitude between the two groups. If it gets bogged down into an adversary relationship, you can multiply the cost of compliance (and number of meetings) by two or three. If it goes to litigation, we lawyers will smile in our tears, but no one else will. So researchers, you are better off not going there. A constructive and healthy exchange is the way to go.
Principle Four: Research Culture
The need for a good culture applies in spades to the research community itself. The Fourth Principal states: A culture of cooperation, trust, and transparency should be fostered among researchers and developers of AI. This favors the open source code movement for AI, but runs counter to the trade-secret business models of many corporations. See Eg.:OpenAI.com, Deep Mind Open Source; Liam Tung, ‘One machine learning model to rule them all’: Google open-sources tools for simpler AI (ZDNet, 6/20/17).
This tension is likley to increase as multiple parties get close to a big breakthrough. The successful efforts for open source now, before superintelligence seems imminent, may help keep the research culture positive. Time will tell, but if not there could be trouble all around and the promise of full employment for litigation attorneys.
Principle Five: Race Avoidance
AI ethics is hard work, but well worth the effort. The risks and rewards are very high. The place to start this work is to talk about the fundamental principles and try to reach consensus. Everyone involved in this work is driven by a common understanding of the power of the technology, especially artificial intelligence. We all see the great changes on the horizon and share a common vision of a better tomorrow.
During an interview at the end of the Asilomar conference, Dan Weld, Professor of Computer Science, University of Washington, provided a good summary of this common vision:
In the near term I see greater prosperity and reduced mortality due to things like highway accidents and medical errors, where there’s a huge loss of life today.
In the longer term, I’m excited to create machines that can do the work that is dangerous or that people don’t find fulfilling. This should lower the costs of all services and let people be happier… by doing the things that humans do best – most of which involve social and interpersonal interaction. By automating rote work, people can focus on creative and community-oriented activities. Artificial Intelligence and robotics should provide enough prosperity for everyone to live comfortably – as long as we find a way to distribute the resulting wealth equitably.