Ethical question takes centre stage at Silicon Valley summit on AI
A Microsoft Corp executive pointed to how the company considered whether it ought to sell nascent facial recognition technology to certain customers, while a Google executive spoke about the company’s decision not to market a face ID service at all.
The discussions at EmTech Digital, run by the MIT Technology Review, underscored how companies are making a bigger show of their moral compass.
At the summit, activists critical of Silicon Valley questioned whether big companies could deliver on promises to address ethical concerns. The teeth the companies’ efforts have may sharply affect how governments regulate the firms in the future.
“It is really good to see the community holding companies accountable,” David Budden, research engineering team lead at Alphabet Inc’s DeepMind, said of the debates at the conference. “Companies are thinking of the ethical and moral implications of their work.”
Ultimately, the company found the research was “more suited for person to person lip-reading than surveillance so on that basis decided to publish” the research, Walker said. The study was published last July.
Kebotix, a Cambridge, Massachusetts startup seeking to use AI to speed up the development of new chemicals, used part of its time on stage to discuss ethics. Chief Executive Jill Becker said the company reviews its clients and partners to guard against misuse of its technology.
Still, Rashida Richardson, director of policy research for the AI Now Institute, said little around ethics has changed since Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc, Microsoft and others launched the nonprofit Partnership on AI to engage the public on AI issues.
“There is a real imbalance in priorities” for tech companies, Richardson said. Considering “the amount of resources and the level of acceleration that’s going into commercial products, I don’t think the same level of investment is going into making sure their products are also safe and not discriminatory.”
Google’s Walker said the company has some 300 people working to address issues such as racial bias in algorithms but the company has a long way to go.