Ethical Intelligence: What does an ‘AI ethicist’ do, anyway?

Kane Fulton, November 1, 2019 3 min read

Originally from Silicon Valley, Olivia Gambelin grew up surrounded by cutting-edge technology. Despite this obvious influence, she went on to study philosophy for her bachelor’s degree, a move that took many people she knew by surprise.

Following her undergrad, Gambelin spent a brief stint as a researcher for a private consulting firm in the EU institutions, during which time she discovered a deep need for AI and tech ethics. She describes this combination as, “the perfect marriage of passion for technology and philosophy” and says it was the driving force to her returning to academics to pursue an MSc in Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh.

Today she is the founder and CEO of Ethical Intelligence, which works to shape the future of tech ethics by bringing the human back into the equation.

We spoke to Gambelin to find out more about the company, her views on ethics in AI, and working in Scotland.

Have you always wanted to be an AI ethicist?

Olivia Gambelin: The original thought was only to become an AI ethicist and pursue a career in consulting upon completion of the degree. However, after a few months spent creating what is now the Beneficial AI Society at the University of Edinburgh, I noticed that the demand for ethics in tech went far beyond one single expert.

The problems arising within the tech sector, specifically due to developments in AI, were not something that could be solved by a single ethicist. Instead, it required an interdisciplinary approach and a need to bring together brilliant minds from both a philosophical and technical background to work together. With this in mind, I co-founded Ethical Intelligence.

What do you believe are the dangers of AI?

AI is not inherently dangerous, rather it is how we decide to use it that causes the danger. AI is an extremely powerful tool that can enable us to go far beyond anything we’ve created before as a human race, but it is still only just a tool.

It is when we begin to replace key human thought processes and elements centric to what we consider make us human with AI that we begin to feel the threat of what AI can do in society. At Ethical Intelligence we are advocates for the use of responsible AI, stressing the word responsible, as we believe that AI development is not a matter of asking can we do it, but instead asking should we?

What are the first steps to using AI in a more ethical way?

Remembering that we are human. A basic understanding of ethics, whether it be our own framework or another’s, is taught across cultures and borders to us from a very young age. Put simply, ethics is the studying of knowing and understanding the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, based on a system of values.

For example, we are taught from day one that human life is something inherently valuable, and so killing or damaging another’s life is wrong. Essentially, this means that at some level, we all have a base understanding of ethics, if we only take the moment to pause and consider the implications of our actions. So, the first step to using AI in a more ethical way is as simple as pausing before acting to consider the implications on a human level.

How do you hope your work can shape the future of AI in Scotland and beyond?

We hope to influence the development of AI in Scotland and beyond in a responsible and (obviously) ethical way. What many people don’t realise is just how vast a field of research ethics really is, and that trying to implement it into AI practices is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

So, even though we’ve already seen companies like Volkswagen suffer £30bn in fines for an unethical programming software and understand that millennials are five times more likely to use and invest in ethical companies, the companies themselves are still struggling to understand how they can mitigate ethical risks and meet the growing demand of the market.

We want to empower the companies we work with to be able to do both, as we believe that in doing so we can create a more conscious industry that keeps human dignity at the forefront of the mind.

Do you have any projects coming up that you’d like to share?

Yes! We are set to launch a webinar series for startups and SMEs seeking to understand how to ethically develop and utilize AI and technology in their company. Until now, we have worked exclusively with large corporations and organizations, but believe that the change we want to see in tech is influenced by startups and SMEs just as much as it is by the big players. For this reason, we want to enable and empower the smaller guys to make the impact they want to.

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