Blog: Ethical AI to bridge borders: Inspiration from Japan

Recently I participated as a keynote speaker to the conference “AI to Bridge Borders”, organized by the Finnish Institute in Japan. The event was held at the beautiful Meiji Kinenkan in Tokyo: this unique place was the perfect venue for such a bridge-building themed event as it is said to blend “natural haven amidst the bustle of the city”. Japan is indeed a great place to discuss about bridging borders in terms of cherishing tradition and celebrating modernity. Since Artificial Intelligence (AI) is in high fashion nowadays, Giorgio Armani’s recent revelation about his love of Japan grabbed my attention in Guardian: “What I find so particularly interesting is the sense of calm that pervades all things Japanese. I am struck by how in Japan modernity mingles seamlessly with history. The Japanese manage to convey the sense that they are able to look both backwards to tradition and forwards to the unknown future with equal ease.” In fact, the title of an upcoming exhibition at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (19.11.2019 – 29.3.2020) – “Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life – How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow” – was chosen from over 15,000 AI-generated options in collaboration with the “IBM Watson”.

The aim of the event “AI to Bridge Borders” was to link the Finnish and Japanese AI researchers within the fields of science, culture, technology and aging. We shared experiences and ideas on topics related to societies for co-evolving intelligence, AI to bridge humans and artificial agents: societies for social agents, AI to bridge elder and younger citizens and AI to bridge art and technology: societies for good life. The other keynote speakers were Professor Junichi Tsujii from Artificial Intelligence Research Center (AIRC) and Advanced Institute Science and Technology (AIST), Tokyo, Japan, and Adjunct Professor Timo Leino from Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland. Besides, others interesting talks were given by representatives of the Whole Brain Architecture Initiative, Tokyo, Japan, the School of Systems Information Science Future University Hakodate, Japan, University of Helsinki, Finland, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo, Japan.

Prof. Tsujii focused on “AI and the future of society from the perspective of the AIRC”. To set the stage, he drew a parallel between human intelligence and AI intelligence to highlight the process of co-operation and co-evolution of humans and AI. While human intelligence can be seen as a “combination of explicit (symbolic) and tacit knowledge”, AI Intelligence depends on “modelling based on Big Data”, which is often framed as a “black box”. Speaking about next AI research direction, Prof. Tsujii indicated that “new AI platform technology is necessary to utilize AI for real world with humans, including mobility, health and welfare, and industrial productivity”. The quest to “real world AI” relates to explainable AI, which cooperates with humans. It is also important to contextualize AI: further topics included AI in digital transformation, AI technologies and international competition or cooperation, and AI as existential threats. One of the central message of Prof. Tsujii was that we have responsibility to turn a non-transparent and difficult to comprehend AI, perceived even as “Alien Intelligence” into explainable AI, which cooperates with humans and positively augments human capabilities for the good of all.

Adjunct Professor Timo Leino focused on AI applications from occupational health perspective in his talk “AI based health and work disability risk assessment and service paths development in Finland”. He presented several case studies from Finland, such as “AI to boost value-based health and social care: Case Espoo”, implemented by Tieto; “Predicting occupational health risk” by occupational healthcare provider Virta; Digital population health management for improvement of diabetes care and prevention” by Terveystalo and Mehiläinen’s Wellbeing Radar to identify risks and ensure effective digitally supported service paths.

In my talk, I focused on AI ethics and good life. How we can harness AI for good and how do we anticipate the future societal impact of the current decisions? What are the important questions to ask today to secure a sustainable future and good life for all: humans, other living creatures and our planet? I suggest the relevant questions to ask are concerned with, for instance, ensuring peace, safety and security of citizens, trust in society, equal availability of services, possibilities to speak out and be heard, justifying technology decisions from the perspectives of human dignity, welfare and sustainability.

In this context, I presented the ETAIROS project to exemplify current research on ethical use of AI in Finland. In general, ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. AI ethics is a sub-field of applied ethics and technology that focuses on ethical issues raised by design, development, implementation and use of AI.  A panel with six experts was organized and we had a vivid discussion on various topics related to ethics, AI and the future. To my delight, the audience actively raised various ethical issues.

The concern about ethical issues associated with technology design and implementation has been increasing globally, mirrored in the numerous guidelines about ethical principles, issued by various organizations and institutions. At the same time, the global competition for AI supremacy is accelerating: the International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts that the worldwide spending on AI Systems is projected to reach $98 Billion in 2023 vs. $37.5 billion spent in 2019. In Europe, spending for AI-based technologies in 2019 has increased 49% for a year, to reach $5.2 billion (IDC, 2019).

The pervasive design and deployment of AI technologies call for reinventing AI ethics like a Phoenix, to illuminate the way to live a good life across all sorts of borders and throughout time. In many cultures, the mythical Phoenix bird symbolized immortality, loyalty, honesty and doing good deeds. To ensure positive societal impact rather than wishful thinking, we need to pause the global AI race to make room for engaging in ethical discussion and global cooperation. The Japanese “sense of calm” and the ability “to look both backwards to tradition and forwards to the unknown future with equal ease” reminds us on the importance of foresight, learning from the past and responsible action for co-creating a desirable future and good life for all.

The blog is written by Senior Scientist Nadezhda Gotcheva (VTT), acting as WP Leader in Foresight in the ETAIROS project.