San Francisco’s board of supervisors took a significant step this week when it voted to ban the use of facial recognition software for law enforcement purposes, but such measures by themselves won’t resolve the ethical issues surrounding surveillance enabled by artificial intelligence.
At least those are the first impressions from a trio of experts focusing on the social implications of AI’s rapid rise.
The Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General says acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is in full compliance with his ethics agreements and official obligations — turning back allegations that he took actions to promote Boeing, his former employer, and disparage its competitors.
The findings of a weeks-long investigation, issued today, seem likely to clear what might have been an obstacle standing in the way of Shanahan taking on the Pentagon’s post on a permanent basis.
Artificial intelligence can work wonders, but often it works in mysterious ways.
Machine learning is based on the principle that a software program can analyze a huge set of data and fine-tune its algorithms to detect patterns and come up with solutions that humans may miss. That’s how Google DeepMind’s Alpha Go AI agent learned to play the ancient game of Go (and other games) well enough to beat expert players.
Transparency figures in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s “10 Laws of AI” as well — and Erez Barak, senior director of product for Microsoft’s AI Division, addressed the issue head-on today at the Global Artificial Intelligence Conference in Seattle.
“We believe that transparency is a key,” he said. “How many features did we consider? Did we consider just these five? Or did we consider 5,000 and choose these five?”
Microsoft will “one day very soon” add an ethics review focusing on artificial-intelligence issues to its standard checklist of audits that precede the release of new products, according to Harry Shum, a top executive leading the company’s AI efforts.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who was a veteran Boeing executive before going to the Pentagon, is facing an ethics investigation amid complaints that he has been talking up his former employer and disparaging Boeing’s competitors.
The Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General today acknowledged that it was looking into the complaints about actions that were “allegedly in violation of ethics rules.”
Shanahan, who spent much of his 31 years at Boeing managing commercial airplane programs, won Senate confirmation to become assistant defense secretary in 2017 and took over as acting defense secretary after James Mattis’ departure at the end of last year.
When Shanahan came to the Pentagon, he pledged to recuse himself from any matters involving Boeing. But in January, Politico quoted two unnamed former government officials as saying that he repeatedly praised Boeing and trashed Lockheed Martin during high-level internal meetings.
The Chinese researcher behind a controversial experiment to produce gene-edited children took the stage at a Hong Kong conference to explain his work, and acknowledged that the international outcry has brought a halt to the experiment.
“The clinical trial was paused due to the current situation,” He Jiankui, a biomedical researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said today at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing.
The university says He (pronounced “Heh”) has been on unpaid leave since January, and today Chinese news outlets reported that his lab on campus has been shut down and sealed off for investigation.
Multiple investigations are being sought in the wake of reports that a Chinese laboratory facilitated the birth of twin girls whose genes had been edited to protect them against the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
There has been no outside confirmation of He’s claims, but geneticists and health policymakers say such claims raise grave ethical issues — including the prospect of creating designer babies, enhancing traits and even introducing exotic new traits.
One of the key groups focusing on the issue at Microsoft is the Aether Committee, where “Aether” stands for AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research.
“It’s been an intensive effort … and I’m happy to say that this committee has teeth,” Horvitz said during his lecture.
He said the committee reviews how Microsoft’s AI technology could be used by its customers, and makes recommendations that go all the way up to senior leadership.
“Significant sales have been cut off,” Horvitz said. “And in other sales, various specific limitations were written down in terms of usage, including ‘may not use data-driven pattern recognition for use in face recognition or predictions of this type.’ ”