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Top Ethical Challenges We Face in 2019

Edited by Elise W. Sherman

Welcome to Ethical Tech Talk, our regular blog featuring thoughtful insight, expert analysis, and ‘think pieces’ on issues at the intersection of ethics and technology. As we head into 2019, we confront numerous ethical challenges in our increasingly technologically driven world. We asked our Executive Board to share the ethical tech challenge they feel is most critical to address. Below are their responses.

Cassi Carley, President & Co-Founder: Thinking big about positive ways to use technology to increase equity. Recently, we have seen a growing discussion of the potential dangers of AI and algorithmic tools to perpetuate bias or even further inequity. While it is important to remain critical in this regard, it will be exciting to see what new ideas develop for using AI in ways that enhance humanity. Successful, positive uses will help push the best practices of responsible deployment of AI tools that augment our society.

Justin Sherman, Vice President & Co-Founder: Bringing technical voices into legal and policy conversations around the regulation of data collection and uses of AI. It’s easy to say that a machine learning (ML) algorithm used for criminal sentencing is biased, but there are, in fact, many definitions of fairness in ML that might be violated by human bias—and there are similarly complex questions to be answered about how to ensure different kinds of fairness in these systems. That nuance is what will bring solutions, but it will be a challenge in 2019 to bring together policymakers, lawyers, and technologists in service of that end.

Aria Chernik, Education Strategist: The biggest challenge may be the academic model itself. Generally speaking, academic culture is slow moving, siloed, and resistant to iterative prototyping, with academic specialization unfolding over years of graduate training and decades of professional engagement. This model of individually-focused expertise is simply not applicable to the emerging field of ethics and technology. The rate at which issues emerge in this field would be almost inconceivable until recently. These issues are deeply interdisciplinary, from philosophy to law to engineering and computer science. All sectors, from private individuals to global conglomerates, from education to industry to government, have a critical stake in understanding and participating in key aspects of ethical tech. If we are going to prepare students to understand the rapidly changing landscape of ethics and technology, the first thing we need to do is significantly innovate academic models to be more co-creative, participatory, transparent, and collaborative.

Ken Rogerson, Policy Strategist: Getting techies, policy makers, the private sector, and citizens in the same room to talk to each other about what their concerns and dreams are. If there is not a conversation, it is as if everyone is touching a different part of the elephant: the articulation of the challengesand potential solutionswill always be “talking past each other.” Each group brings different strengths and biases to the table and we have to recognize that none of us has a monopoly on what the questions and answers are.