Begoña Román

Chair of the Ethical Committee of Social Services in Catalonia

“AI is made so that you like it”

Does the difference between types of intelligence lie in emotion?
Exactly. People think about robots. Yet, most AI has nothing to do with robots. It’s artificial intelligence we use to delegate tasks that humans used to do and now leave in the hands of algorithms designed by humans. They are increasingly sophisticated algorithms that include the programmer’s values. Therefore, the ethics of artificial intelligence are those of the programmer.
What are the ethical implications?
In the car industry, for example, if a brand had to decide whose life to prioritise, it might choose to put the driver’s safety first because that is who buys the car. That would be decided by a programmer, based on the decision made by the company. Another might choose to design sensors that can detect if there’s a child in the car, and so protect it even if it might mean the death of the driver. The algorithm includes the programmer’s and the company’s values. Algorithms can deal with a lot of data that the human brain — not due to the complexity but to the quantity of data — cannot process quickly enough. That means you can provide the computer with criteria to make decisions that require huge amounts of data. An example. They came up with some programs to help radiologists detect illnesses with scanners. Both humans and machines showed a 5% margin of error, but together the margin dropped to 1%.
Is the future about finding the balance between the two intelligences?
AI is a product of human intelligence and it would be a shame to let it get out of hand, especially considering the risk we are exposed to when there is no collaboration. Algorithms are everywhere, which is why you are often asked online to show you’re not a robot. People have too much trust when it comes to providing data. Americans are very curious about their genealogy and they take genetic tests that then go online. What happens when you freely make your DNA code public? Your prevalence for certain illnesses can be known, and so you are giving a lot of information away for free that’s very valuable to insurers. People have to think about what they make public online. And which relationships they want with AI.
What do you think about series like ‘Black Mirror’ or the film ‘Her’?
Literature and sci-fi help us experience something without actually experiencing it. And in ethics it helps us recognise an experience when it happens. In ’Her’, the lead is in love with an operating system, but it is a romantic and platonic love because there is no body. But in real relationships, the importance is in the physical body. The machine can simulate but it can’t ever be conscious, with mystery and emotions. Machines should remain as servants. The day we begin to anthropomorphise them is when we’ll begin to have problems. Just look at the names: Siri, Alexia, Sofia... all of them are women’s names.
Is that sexism?
When we anthropomorphise them, we make them young and docile. Big industry sees the potential in the affection for machines. We shouldn’t create confusion about what a person is. An operating system is developed so that when you get home it asks you how you are, how your day went, and it has sensors that can detect how you feel. That allows for developing a relationship because humans are driven by emotions. It’s vital not to get confused: it’s not real, and is programmed for you to like it. And that can lead to two outcomes: making us value relationships with humans more, or making us less inclined to deal with complex human relationships.
And the ethics in politics?
It is not only in Catalonia-Spain, but in the UK, the US, Brazil… the panorama is bleak. For years we have lived with political and ethical ideas that go back two centuries. For me, the structure of political parties is too hierarchical and there is no democracy without a free press, and the press is not free. The re-politicisation of the public is good news, but the new forms of propaganda are not. We have to regenerate democracy with fundamental values. The priorities are climate change, AI, and borders. But none of these issues is at the forefront of the political agenda.

interview technology

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