I wrote this text for the old blog some years ago. The topic of AI and its ethics is now even more urgent. So, I repeat the text in the new blog.
Recently, I have to read a lot about the consequences of AI with respect to ethics and moral. Let me quickly sketch my personal view on the subject.
First, let us talk about science fiction and AI robots that act like humans. In my view, it is rather simple:
Machines are not human beings,
even when they are equipped with AI or look like humans.
Robots are not part of our society.
In fact, it is probably better for us if the robots do not look like humans at all. That helps us keep the distinction. Machines, with AI or not, should be marked as machines.
The reason I am so sure and definitive about that is not a religious one. But we humans are programmed genetically to be part of a human community. Our very self and the purpose of our life depends on other humans. Being lonely, an outlaw, or even just being pushed around make us sick. Children, friends, and admiration make us happy. We are proud to take responsibility for others. It is a misconception to think that people are basically selfish.
Now you can argue that the social system we live in could be enhanced and improved by AI robots which are on our level or even above, both in moral acting and in intellectual capabilities. These robots could live among us just like our friends. Wouldn’t that possibly be a better society? Aren’t humans inherently unreliable and machines are not?
But any AI that acts in predictable and reliable ways is not an AI at all. It would act mechanical and can easily be determined to be a machine. The very characteristic of intelligence is that it explores unexpected paths occasionally. This makes it unreliable and not predictable by definition. Soon, most AI will even act in super-human ways that we are incapable of understanding due to our limited capacities.
Thus, my only conclusion is that we need to distinguish ourselves from the AI we have. We need to treat AI as machines that we use. Robots are not a product of nature that can live with us uncontrolled with its own rights. We need to protect mankind, our society, and ourselves.
After all that science fiction nightmares, let us talk about the current way we use AI to improve technical systems. Even that limited form of AI already poses questions of ethics and moral.
Some see a lot of problems arising with AI or fuzzy logic that are built into cars, airplanes or surveillance systems. It is indeed true that these systems have the potential of a collision between a human decision and an AI decision. But that is already true without AI technology! We all have experienced a system that seems to act on its own, a computer or even a mechanical device.
Think of an airplane with an AI as co-pilot. As a first example, assume the AI commands a go-around in an unstable approach. The chances are quite high that the AI is right and the pilot has made an error. I also tend to think that the AI makes much fewer mistakes throughout the complete flight as a co-pilot would. I would definitely prefer an AI to a rookie on the right seat. The same applies to nearly all applications of AI in technology. Usually, the AI is better. It can even be used to train the pilot in a simulator, much better and versatile than a human instructor.
It must be clear, however, that the responsibility for the proper working of the AI is at the developer of the plane, car or technical system that uses it. The AI is not a human that we can make responsible or even punish for mistakes. The developer has to test the system thoroughly to make sure it works as intended. But if you think that is too difficult note that it is much more difficult to test a human, and the verdict is much less reliable.
It must also be clear at all times that the AI which makes decisions is a machine. When we let cars drive on their own the car does not become a being on our level, however intellectually superior it may be. If it does not work it will be trashed or repaired.
The problem with AI and robots should not be that they will be superior to us in many ways. The problem is that we need to treat them as our enslaved machines, and not as part of our society.
By the way, I am not afraid of super-human AI. Indeed, humanity deserves a lesson in humiliation (said Richard Dawkins). But let us use AI to our benefit!
Post scriptum, there is a nice movie (in German) about robot lovers and the psychological problems that they may cause, titled „Ich bin dein Mensch“. Unfortunately, it comes without subtitles in English.
This great movie points out the dangers of becoming emotional with an AI. Because the AI can act perfectly fitting to its master, this would yield to addiction with all bad consequences, like isolation and dependency. It works basically like heroin killing social interactions with other humans. I think this analysis is correct, even though the same problem can be caused by other means, like gaming or net addiction, or even by abusive love affairs.