AI in society: What’s the fuzz about all the ethics?

30-04-2019 - Oostkamp , TE Connectivity

Alicja Gescinska

Alicja Gescinska is one of the leading young philosophers of Belgium and the Netherlands. This is her story:

“Who am I? The question is more complex than might seem at first. I am usually referred to as a Polish-Belgian philosopher and writer, sometimes as a Polish-Flemish one, or a Belgian one with Polish roots.

I was born in Warsaw, in communist Poland. When I was seven, my parents decided to leave the country and its problems behind. We fled to Belgium, where we stayed in a refugee center in Brussels. It was a short period of my life, but the memories of which are deeply and permanently engraved in my mind. Ater a few months we moved to Lede, an East-Flemish town, where I went to school and learned the Dutch language. At home we continued to speak Polish.

Already at a young age, I had to find an answer to questions about my identity: who am I, what am I doing here, where do I come from, where do I want to go from here?

My love for philosophy might have emerged just there: in my childhood, when I saw myself confronted with an endless chain of seemingly easy questions and each answer entailed new questions. Many of those questions echo in my philosophical work. They are the point of departure of a quest that led me to the paths I am still walking, and where I sometimes still get lost.

There are many possible answers to the questions who I am. Here are a few important events in my life: In 1981 I was born. In 1988 we moved to Belgium. In 2007 I graduated summa cum laude in Moral Sciences at Ghent University. From 2007-2008 I lived in my hometown again, to do research at Warsaw University. In 2008 I began working on my Ph.D at Ghent University. In 2011 my book De verovering van de vrijheid was published, and my first son was born. In 2012 I became Doctor of Philosophy, after having finished my dissertation on the thought of Max Scheler and Karol Wojtyla. In 2013 I gave birth to my second son. Three months later we moved to the US. From 2013-2014 I worked at the Politics Department of Princeton University. In 2014 my book on the life and work of the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski was published. From 2014-2016 I worked at Amherst College, where I taught courses in philosophy and European politics. In 2016 my debut novel Een soort van liefde was published, as well as my essay Allmensch. At the end of the academic year we returned to Belgium, I made Wanderlust, a philosophical television program, and my third son was born. In 2017 my novel Een soort van liefde was awarded De Debuutprijs. The second season of Wanderlust was broadcast on Canvas.”

about the seminar

“Being free and able to develop one’s own opinions is not less important than having the right to express those opinions. If we fail to acknowledge the importance of freedom of thought, there is a chance we won’t sufficiently cherish and foster it.”

What if we apply this statement of Alicja Gescinska to AI, algorithms, robots and intelligent systems? What if we assume that truly intelligent machines should not only learn, but also reason like humans do? If we could open the black box of algorithms, the way an algorithm processes information and makes (even biased) decisions, could we ever consider an algorithm as being free? Nowadays, opinions on AI now range from ‘don’t worry’ to ‘worry’. First, people shouldn’t be worried as technology has always been a net creator of jobs. People should be worried, however, as the era we are living in is different now. While previously, technology was fostering automation of human muscular power and somewhat routine skills, now, technology aims at replicating, emulating and even exceeding human intelligence.

The domain of ethics is now largely instigated by data scientists that (don’t) want to take responsibility for the algorithms they develop. Algorithms that are likely to impact people’s lives, society and companies. As such, there is a growing need to think about new policies that will or should emerge when AI affects the workforce as it is predicted now. Concepts like universal basic income, universal basic services and dangers like AI nationalism need to be discussed.

According to Toon Borré and other leading data scientists, four agents need to be involved when discussing ethics in data and AI:

  • The data scientists that develop the algorithms
  • The companies and organizations that sponsor algorithm development
  • The government
  • The citizens that use, or are being affected by the algorithms

Technology is not neutral. AI is not neutral. The question, however, is what level of neutrality we want to give up in AI and which values we should pursue in intelligent systems. One thing is certain: one of the big challenges of next generation AI-systems is their higher level of social awareness and responsibility. But perhaps there is no need to design AI algorithms that are able to take decisions about human lives? Perhaps policy decisions should give priority to alternatives that do not give robots or self-learning algorithms the ability to decide about human lives? Perhaps we should define key principles of algorithm accountability like responsibility, explainability, accuracy, auditability and fairness? Perhaps we should consider whether intelligent systems, across cultures and communities, should behave like us or even better than us?

after the talk

A set of thought-provoking statements on ethics in AI will be launched. Via live polling and questioning, you will be given the chance to (anonymously) express your opinions and thoughts on ethics in AI, adding a second layer to your discussion during the network moment.

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the venue

TE Connectivity

Siemenslaan 14 8020 Oostkamp

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