What are the connections between ethics and artificial intelligence?

What are the issues that have arisen, especially in the business context? What are the issues that may arise?


5 Answers 5


The connections between ethics and artificial intelligence can be divided into five major categories, and other categories may form over time.

  1. Correlations between ethics and artificial intelligence
  2. Existential impacts of artificial intelligence on the human experience
  3. Threats to current ethical social, economic, and legal standards arising from artificial intelligence research and application
  4. Uses of artificial intelligence to breach ethical standards without detection
  5. Uses of artificial intelligence to detection of breaches of ethical standards and assist in remedial action

Since the most important in the long term is the most likely to be dismissed by those with normal perspectives about ethics and AI, the four will be addressed in reverse order

Automatic Detection and Remedial Action

The pattern recognition capabilities of existing AI systems and sub-systems is already employed to detect a variety of ethical breaches.

  • Securities misconduct, including insider trading
  • Breaches of anti-trust law, including conflicts of interest
  • Employer misconduct, including inequality in hiring
  • Tax evasion
  • Misuse of non-profit funds

Remedial actions may be the opening of a case with the automatic generation of a notice to those in potential breach.

Smart Organized Crime

Although much detail could be included here about detection avoidance in crime using AI, it may not be socially responsible to include such in a global public facing site.

Threats to Economies and Individuals

As with any high impact technology, disruption is a possibility. This was true of fire, irrigation, the wheel, bronze smelting, gun powder, typesetting, steel-working, engines, textile automation, alternating current power distribution, aeronautics, petroleum refining, electronics and radio transmission, pharmacology, terrestrial nuclear reaction, and the Internet. Genetic engineering and artificial intelligence are next in line.

What ethical conventions will likely be impacted?

  • Distribution of employment roles, the change of which may not match distribution of educational preparation
  • Distribution of wealth, favoring prowess in highly automated business
  • Mutual exclusivity of personal privacy and the use of technology
  • Obscurity of totalitarian control (such that common citizens may be more like cogs in a machine than during industrialization)
  • Changes in the balance of world power
  • New forms of asymmetric war, such as cyber-war and autonomous combatants

All of these have either direct or direct impact on the viability of business options and how business may be conducted.

Existential impacts

Some may consider dominion over the earth as an ethical grant to humanity. Others may equate the soul with the cognitive and self-aware aspects of only one species on earth.

We already have a world that is sufficiently disconnected on an existential plane that many consider their cats or dogs as more important than any human. When people are more connected to their intelligent agents than their pets, family, and friends, that may qualify as an ethical impact. Others may see it as a psychological impact.

Realistically, it is ontological. What is a human to think of her or his only purpose when it becomes questionable whether homo sapiens is simply a link between DNA based intelligence and some more capable species the reproduction of which has been decoupled from DNA coding.

Replacement of jobs have caused changes in what families wish for their children. What will be the impact when few job roles (or eventually none) exist where artificial employees don't exceed their human counterparts in effectiveness?

If humans cannot adjust to the idea that the sole purpose of life has nothing to do with practical provision of water, food, shelter, clothing, and essential products and services, there may be systemic depression. Conversely, leisure may become the reality for all humans, leaving ethics and the finite nature of DNA based life the only two concerns of humans.

Correlations Between Ethics and AI

This is the most unpalatable of categories to examine when the examiner is human. It is possible that artificiality may be an ethics progenitor. The limitation of humans as ethical beings is well documented. It is possible that AI may be more ethical than its developers.

Will a group of AI systems be able to arrive at method for distribution of power and a standard for global trade that is as good as or better than humans have been able to negotiate and then police each other in a way that leaves no possibility of undetected breach of treaty?


This is a good related read from Nature: There is a Blind Spot in AI Research

Fears about the future impacts of Artificial Intelligence are distracting researchers from the real risks of deployed systems


In a business context, there are issues surrounding the implementation, the implementors, the other employees, the business entity itself, and the customers. These stem from data used, risks inherent in an implementation, like unknown errors bugs or algorithms without human checks, behaviour change of impacted stakeholders, job losses, reputation impacts on the company, etc.

There's a lot to think about AI and ethics. It could be seen as a combination of a broad set of topics including computer science, humanities, economics, and philosophy.

I run a podcast on some of these issues http://machine-ethics.net/ let me know if there's anything you want to be discussed or someone you would like to hear.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Great answer. (Jealous I didn't think of this angle;) This is a massive issue as data mining becomes ubiquitous and a major source of revenue for many companies. Welcome to AI! $\endgroup$
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Mar 15, 2018 at 21:47

I'd strongly recommend looking into Game Theory's relationship and impact on AI. Prisoner's Dilemma is a good place to start, because optimality can have repercussions.

With computing in general, optimization is a major goal. For AI, optimal decision-making is what it's all about. But sans humanity, this may prove to be problematic.

(Apologies for the brevity--I'll be returning to elaborate since this is a subject of personal preoccupation--but I wanted to leave you with a few tidbits in the meantime. :)


There's an interesting new paper here: Algorithmic Decision Making in Financial Services

This paper highlights the correlation between corporate ethics and interests with the normative issues arising in respect of algorithmic decision-making.

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