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Reader Q&A: How is Big Tech dealing with ethical problems?

The application of artificial intelligence in businesses and the public sector is causing huge ethical divisions — both inside and outside tech companies.

Big-tech groups leading research into AI, in the US and China — including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, SenseTime and Tencent — have taken very different approaches.

They differ on questions such as whether to develop technology that can ultimately be used for military and surveillance purposes, and to whom these systems may be sold.

Some have also been attacked for the algorithmic flaws or distortions in their programs, where computers inadvertently propagate bias through unfair or corrupt data inputs — such as Amazon’s experimental hiring algorithm that penalised female applicants. The company has since scrapped it.

Ask the FT

Madhumita Murgia, the FT’s European technology correspondent, and Kiran Stacey, FT Washington correspondent, will answer your questions about the ethical conundrums facing big-tech companies throughout the day (GMT) on Thursday May 13. Post your question in the comments section, below.

But the debate around ethics in AI is not only a philosophical one. Governments around the world are drafting national regulations for AI, to prevent ethical conflicts and biases. So is the EU. This is particularly important as smart decision-making systems are used more in public services, such as social welfare, law enforcement and healthcare.

As companies develop new AI products, they will have to ensure these systems are transparent, fair, explainable and compatible with existing laws and regulations. How Big Tech addresses questions of bias in AI will affect not only public perception and trust, but also companies’ ability to do business in specific countries, the AI products in their pipeline and the type of talent they can attract.

What does this mean for companies building machine-learning algorithms? Will this affect their business models? Will questions over ethics impact the products themselves? Will it affect their sales and revenues? How have AI ethics controversies affected the workforces of these companies? What will compel companies to examine their algorithms for ethical problems — is it regulation or something else?

Madhumita Murgia, the FT’s European technology correspondent, and Kiran Stacey, FT Washington correspondent, will answer your questions on these ethical conundrums facing tech companies — and more — throughout the day (GMT) on Thursday May 13.

Post your questions in the comments below. FT reporters will drop in regularly to answer them.

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