2041: Visions for the future of AI ethics

Signal post, October 2021

The Global Ethics Day is celebrated on 20th of October 2021. It is an opportunity to jointly ponder the ethical issues we are facing globally. When we add futures thinking, pondering stretches decades away. How the world will be changed by AI in two decades? Some experts recently offered their common vision. In a new book, AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future, the AI expert Kai-Fu Lee and the scientific fiction writer Chen Qiufan are searching for answers to the question: how will artificial intelligence change our world within twenty years? The authors imagined how our world will be shaped by AI in 2041 by developing ten short stories. The book is a combination of science fiction and technical analysis, which might be by itself a weak signal as to how we can approach complex issues like AI and its future implications in society.

To ensure future readiness of organizations and institutions globally, leaders need to encourage integration of multidisciplinary views, blending of fiction and non-fiction, art and science – bold, creative ways to collectively imagine and create our future are needed. How such books, endorsed by global enterprises and leaders, may act as immersive journeys to pave the way of thinking about the possible futures?

What are some other possibilities to hop into immersive journeys about AI ethics? Stanford University’s One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100) 2021 report was just published. The report reminded of the fast developing AI technology field and increasing capacity to automate decisions: “the field of artificial intelligence has made remarkable progress in the past five years and is having real-world impact on people, institutions and culture”. The role of foresight and multidisciplinary collaboration is essential for stretching the time horizon, understanding downsides and risks, and building capabilities for the future, including governance, monitoring and oversight of AI systems design and applications.

When talking about creating the future, we tend to imagine that humans are doing this, imagining about implications of technologies on the society, as we know it know. Although humans remain in charge of creating the future, could AI itself act as a co-creator, a tool to assist us, fed with tons of gigabytes of carefully selected data? What are the ethical implication if such choices are explored? From AI ethics perspective, the data for such initiative should be carefully and responsibly handled by computational professionals and young entrepreneurs alike according to e.g. the IFIP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

The dilemma of technological determinism is heavily integrated into this. “The Social shaping of Technology” and “Does technology drive history?” types of ideas and questions are not new to us, but still fascinating and relevant questions also regarding AI technologies. How is AI development influenced by the society and society influenced by the AI technology? What are the implications of interaction between people and AI machines, or how are AI tools affecting our behavior or values? Definitely this implies also lots of ethical aspects.

Recently, in the context of AI shaping the future, AI has been especially focused on learning tools. For instance, a special conference on AI in learning – shaping the future is going to be arranged in Helsinki in the end of 2021. The conference introduction highlights that “Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the world”, and “AI offers enormous opportunities to expand educational settings for learning”. As a tool of learning AI extensively shapes the future and affects people’s minds.

Another approach is AI in shaping the future of work. Pega future of work report shows that people in the organizations think that technology will change the way we work ‘significantly’ or ‘quite a lot’. AI is one of the key technologies changing the work, others being intelligent automation and cloud-based solutions. The report says that “all employees will need to become more familiar with AI solutions”. Hence, undoubtedly, AI shapes the working life of most of the people and requires learning.

In a recent interview with Fast Company, the authors of the book AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future explained that they tried to build up a positive and bright future of AI to empower the individual and societies. However, since the book tells stories, they needed to build up more nuances and to put AI into different cultural context, such as India, Nigeria, China, Japan, America, Australia, and the Middle East. According to the authors, the critical points is to understand how the technology might interact with the local context and the culture. The blend of fiction and non-fiction for exploring the future points to the role of human imagination and creativity in all areas of life in the future: for developing novel and adequate governance structures, organizing the society according to ethical principles and codes of conduct that are respected and followed.

The next Global Ethics Day will take place on 19th of October 2022. Stay tuned!