In a recent conversation about AI, a business acquaintance told me why, in his opinion, Elon Musk will not succeed. “It’s because Musk allows his beliefs and ethics to enter into his business,” he said. “Musk doesn’t like AI and so he is not pursuing its implementation to the extent he should.” My reply was that as I understood it, it isn’t that Musk doesn’t like AI but rather doesn’t trust it given the insufficient moral parameters being established around its development and implementation. His response? “Well, when consumers see the benefits and ease of products and services that utilize AI they won’t ask or care about the morality or ethics.”
That’s when I decided to end the discussion.
Convincing a 39 year old businessman otherwise, who actually thinks that ethics and morals are irrelevant to AI or should be, is more energy that I wanted to expend. After all, he’s pretty cooked at his age. It doesn’t mean I was not surprised and slightly appalled by his perspective. It just means that if you don’t understand the connection between a culture lacking ethics in business that has also run amok with sexual harassment in the workplace… you’re probably way down the road of no return on the relationship between ethics and AI. In fact, his final words to me on the subject were “AI will be our slaves.” To which I replied, “Or we will be theirs.”
Perhaps I come from an old school. I am willing to own that accusation. I remember a world where everything wasn’t instant, people didn’t have tech sex with virtual strangers and where they actually cared what others thought about how they behaved and the consequences of their actions. Maybe I am a cultural dinosaur. But I am not alone. I talk to plenty of other creatures from that “cultural Jurrasic period” where values and principles mattered and people sought out and knew how to have personal relationships.
What is so disturbing is that people like the entrepreneur I spoke with about Elon Musk are in the majority not the minority. Ethics be damned. They slow things down. They get in the way of progress. Think of how high that tower could be…why it could go all the way to the sky…if we didn’t have to consider the consequences of building it in the first place. Oops. We did that one, didn’t we?
I like that Elon Musk is bothered by the potential of an AI world absent ethical and moral considerations. I am bothered by the fact that Google isn’t. Large tech giants like Facebook and Google have already proven themselves not to be beyond crossing all sorts of ethical lines…or at least not past using mind control and preference mapping…to reach their profit driven ends. At least Musk has a conscience and isn’t afraid to make that known or stand by what he believes in.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s what is all comes down to. Belief.
We seem to have stopped believing in anything beyond self-satisfaction. Don’t misunderstand me. I think we humans are in charge of our own destiny and can choose to find joy even in the hard times. We deserve to be happy. But in satisfying one self, a total disregard for our connection to all living things and especially to a higher power that is essentially good, self-satisfaction soon morphs into self-absorption which, in an AI-virtual world, ends in addiction and enslavement: if not to a government then to a machine that anticipates our every need and fulfills our every desire.
Live long enough and you learn, hopefully, that joy and satisfaction come as much from living within certain ethical and moral parameters as from hard work, patience and forgiveness. Absent those parameters anything goes. Given our human propensity to abuse power and self-destruct in the doing, we are more likely to devolve then evolve. If memory serves me, we’ve done that before as well. I wonder why we can’t seem to get this one right?