Doing the right thing: The ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning


Tommy Kolega, CIO, Viadex: Global IT Infrastructure and Deployment Specialists

Are we all doomed?
All new technologies have their supporters and detractors. It’s in man’s nature to question the cost of progress while, or sometime even before, assessing its value. It’s a case of guilty until proved innocent. Civilised society can be justly proud of this cynicism and caution, after all: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. There can be instances, however, when you have to wonder if ‘worst case scenarios’ are a little excessive. Look at this, a prediction from McKinsey, no less, reported on the BBC’s website:

Robot automation will ‘take 800 million jobs by 2030′.










I recently published a blog on AI and ML where I referred to the fears that surround these technologies. These sorts of reactions have mostly been fuelled by the observation that the more that processes are automated, the less there is for humans to do.


There is a positive point of view
The World Economic Forum has identified the ‘Top 9 ethical issues in artificial intelligence’ which include job losses, unequal distribution of wealth (Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg ends up getting most of it), negative impacts on human behaviour and interaction, and so on.

I say ‘and so on’ because it’s not hard to be negative, given that AI affords commentators the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and dive right into sci-fi dystopia; much more fun than the boy meets girl story. What’s refreshing about the WEF article is that it balances each downside with a positive view. Talking of unemployment, for example, it says:

“Most people still rely on selling their time to have enough income to sustain themselves and their families. We can only hope that this opportunity will enable people to find meaning in non-labour activities, such as caring for their families, engaging with their communities and learning new ways to contribute to human society.

If we succeed with the transition, one day we might look back and think that it was barbaric that human beings were required to sell the majority of their waking time
just to be able to live.”


Transformation doesn’t happen without things changing
The basis of a recent article on Forbes, Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Killing Jobs; It’s Killing Business Models is that AI has moved beyond the simple automation of daily operational processes and into adding measurable business value and benefits. The article suggests that AI is now as disruptive as the Internet was.

Companies like Amazon, Google, Uber and Airbnb used the Internet to outperform established, slower moving and less innovative traditional players in their respective markets. Entire industries mutated as cloud based technologies made it easier to move faster, the arrival of Big Data analytics made it possible to predict customer behaviours and better serve customers, and wireless technologies made organisations fluid, responsive and seamless in their operations.

As transformation rolls on, it’s inevitable that if winners emerge, it’s at the cost of losers. Blockbuster ceased to exist when video on demand came along; blame Netflix. Blame the technologies that Netflix pioneered. Blame the business model and progress, customer choice, lifestyles and the digitisation of society. Blame who you like, but look at how much slicker and richer the Netflix experience is. When somebody, one day, supersedes Netflix, will there be protestors on the streets? Were there riots when Kodak rolled over in the path of the digital photography juggernaut? If there were, they weren’t widely reported.

AI will underpin similar reversals in fortunes; to the innovator go the spoils. This is what transformation is; things change, ground rules change, perceptions change. The Forbes article quoted an Infosys survey of 1000 businesses, and the great news from most respondents to the survey is that they are paying attention to educating their workforce about AI and saying it will enrich roles rather than put jobs at risk.


A smarter, safer world
Going one step further and considering how fundamental is AI will be in our daily lives, Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, says  that AI is  “…one of the most important things that humanity is working on. It’s more profound than, I don’t know, electricity or fire,” adding that people learned to harness fire for the benefits of humanity, but also needed to overcome its downsides, too.

Pichai also said that AI could be used to help solve climate change issues, or to cure cancer. He acknowledges that people have the right to be concerned, and at the same time embrace technological advances. I was at a meeting recently here in Singapore where in her keynote introduction, Dr. Vivienne Ming (a theoretical neuroscientist, entrepreneur, author and founder of Socos, who has been named one of 10 Women to Watch in Tech by Inc. Magazine) put AI in context: “Don’t expect C3PO to come and tap you on the shoulder any time soon”.

Ming outlined many ways that AI is weaving its way into our daily lives already – including the Animoji in the new iPhone X that can read your facial expressions and animate the emoji accordingly. More importantly, she discussed how some AI neural network algorithms have been used by defence organisations to read facial expressions of suspects to determine whether they are telling the truth or not – and improving the security posture of those nations.

In the UK, we hear that Theresa May will be announcing plans for the ethical oversight of Artificial Intelligence. It’s right that society should be concerned about the ethical impact of AI, and May relates that computers could end up making critical ethical decisions without human oversight. There is a massive amount of immediate potential to embrace AI especially when it comes to Big Data and Search. An article on CMS Wire states: “Artificial intelligence has been around for a long time, but for many enterprises seeking to extract more meaning from their data, the future is now.”

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Happening right now
I recall when I got my first home assistant, Alexa, and all the uses I put it to and it ended up essentially replacing many of the home entertainment gadgets and I now use just Alexa for those purposes. The natural language processing capability that Alexa utilises combined with the search capability means that today when I am at home I rarely use my phone, tablet or computer for these purposes anymore and I purely rely on Alexa.

For sure, the impact of AI will be profound. This is, dare I say it, in the DNA of technology; it is profound, progressive, transformational, like the internet was, and the cloud is. At Viadex we take a measured approach to any implementation of new technologies. We are helping organisations to leverage the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially in the Media and Travel sectors.

In so doing, organisations are discovering new ways of enhancing their business models, gaining maximum value from the insights their data delivers, and elevating the quality of the customer experience they offer. This is what winners are doing, right now.


What are you thinking of using AI for in your business? Do you see it as ‘end of days’ or start of the next phase of your business growth? If you want to discuss where to go next, let’s talk. Just email me at: