Can Artificial Intelligence Be Ethical?

There’s no denying that artificial intelligence is our future. By definition, AI is the development of computer systems that can learn, think, make deductions – much in the same way as the human mind does –  only much faster and at a much larger scale. The volume and speed at which these machines can perform tasks cannot be surpassed by even the most adept human being. 

With this amount of power – and the prevalence of its use in today’s society – it begs the questions: can artificial intelligence be ethical?

It’s easy to see why many people mistrust – and even fear – the increased use of AI and its potential abuse of power. And yet, we see AI being used to improve society like with advanced disease detection in the healthcare field and fraud prevention in the finance sector, among others.

It’s important to examine both sides of artificial intelligence to answer the initial question about the possibility of AI being ethical. 

Common Fears About AI

1. Machines taking over the workforce

One of the most common fears about artificial intelligence is that machines will take jobs away from humans. Since systems powered by technology can perform so much quicker and more efficiently, the misperception is that humans will become obsolete. Why hire human labor when one machine can create the output of 10 or more workers?

This concern is fair, as it is true that machines perform tasks at much higher speed and frequency. But, we must also keep in mind what artificial intelligence does in the workplace. It amplifies the tasks that humans are able to do and frees up humans to do other things. By having machines take over repetitive – and sometimes dangerous – labor, people can be used for more valuable work. This includes vital tasks that require creativity, intuition, ingenuity and even empathy. 

2. Violation of personal privacy

Another common fear is the ethics regarding personal data collection and the infringement of privacy laws. It’s known that a massive amount of data that can already be collected from our personal devices – our mobile phones, computers, smart TVs, tablets – artificial intelligence accelerates this trend even further by magnifying access to personal information with enhanced speed and volume.

Given the power of artificial intelligence, again, this is a legitimate worry. One way to abate this fear is by making sure that data is collected anonymously, not singling anybody out. Data collection can be done ethically if it’s done in aggregate on a macro-level to showcase collective trends and insights versus disclosing information about any individual citizen on a micro-level. 

Impact Report 2019

Impact report

Do you want to know how we have helped to create better policies, more effective budgets and earlier interventions with Artificial Intelligence?

The Benefits of AI

Despite some understandable common fears about artificial intelligence, we must also recognize its many benefits.

1. AI’s power of automation

A previously-mentioned benefit is that machines are able to optimize repetitive tasks with increased speed, volume, and efficiency. This frees up people to do other important, more creative tasks for which human beings are better suited.

2. Human error reduction

Machines are more precise, simply due to the limitations of human senses. AI can detect what the human eye and what the human ear cannot, which is greatly advantageous in many fields like production, medicine, and public policy.

3. Time saved on data analysis 

AI has the power to extract and structure data in real time. This means an enormous amount of time and money saved on data analysis compared to the manpower that would be required.

4. Expedited decision making 

Because artificial intelligence platforms can perform at scale and in real time, results and insights can be extracted much faster. This helps decision-makers to take action or enact policies in a quicker, more relevant way.

Why AI Can be Ethical

If artificial intelligence is used for the right reasons (to advance social good) and through the right methods (using aggregated, anonymous data), AI can indeed by ethical.

Citibeats is one such example.

Citibeats’ CEO, Ivan Caballero, summarizes what makes Citibeats an ethical AI platform:

1. Respect for privacy

All the data analyzed are extracted from public and open sources – social networks, blogs, digital press, websites – or from private sources that have permission to use this data. 

2. Interpretation of collective data (not individual)

Citibeats analyzes collective data, and therefore works with aggregated data. By working only with a large amount of anonymized data and collective opinions, it never detects the opinions of specific individuals. Individuals are anonymized and included in collectives and global trends are analyzed, so their objective is not to detect individual cases.

3. Identification of deviations

The platform identifies the discrepancies caused by sociodemographic factors, such as gender, age etc.

4. Use for positive social impact

Citibeats puts the platform at the service of projects with a positive impact on people’s lives.

5. Non-partisan application 

The platform never works for ideas, parties or political movements, but works for administrations and institutions, NGOs, non-profit entities and other decision-makers.

Citibeats’ AI text analytics has made an invaluable social impact in areas such as homelessness, housing, rights for the disabled, and disaster mitigation. All this was accomplished while adhering to ethical standards and keeping societal well-being at the core of it all.

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