Is Ethical AI Ethical?

Is ethical AI ethical? This is not meant to be a self-referential question as much as a question about semantics. Do we know what we mean when we talk about ethics? And, as a corollary,  can we practice ethical AI if we aren’t sure what we mean when we talk about ethics. (Whether we speak correctly about artificial intelligence is a matter we can examine later.)

Is it possible that ethics is one of those concepts we all think we understand well,  agree that it is important to understand in order to lead good lives, but don’t really have a clear grasp of.

If this is the case, how do we go about practicing ethical AI? What is the purpose of it? How do we judge whether our ethical standards regarding AI are sufficient or effective? What would effective AI ethics look like? And is the question of ethical AI one of those problems we need to develop AI in order to solve?

Toward an ethical AI, here are some passages I consider important:

“Everyone will readily agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether or not we are duped by morality.” — Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity

“What is happiness?

“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!” – Conan the Barbarian

“Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was….

“The hypothesis which I wish to advance is that in the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder as the language of natural science in the imaginary world which I described. What we possess, if this view is true, are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts of which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived.”  — Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

“A great-souled person, because he holds few things in high honor, is not someone who takes small risks or is passionately devoted to taking risks, but he is someone who takes great risks, and when he does take a risk he is without regard for his life, on the ground that it is not on just any terms that life is worth living.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

“Someone asked the eminent shaykh Abu ‘Ali b. Sina (may God the Exalted have mercy on him) the meaning of the Sufi saying, He who knows the secret of destiny is an atheist.  In reply he stated that this matter contains the utmost obscurity, and is one of those matters which may be set down only in enigmatic form and taught only in a hidden manner, on account of the corrupting effects its open declaration would have on the general public.  The basic principle concerning it is found in a Tradition of the Prophet (God bless and safeguard him): Destiny is the secret of God; do not declare the secret of God.  In another Tradition, when a man questioned the Prince of the Believers, ‘Ali (may God be pleased with him), he replied, Destiny is a deep sea; do not sail out on it.  Being asked again he replied, It is a stony path; do not walk on it.  Being asked once more he said, It is a hard ascent; do not undertake it.

“The shaykh said: Know that the secret of destiny is based upon certain premisses, such as 1) the world order, 2) the report that there is Reward and Punishment, and 3) the affirmation of the resurrection of souls.” — Avicenna, On the Secret of Destiny

“The greatest recent event—that “God is dead,” that the belief in the Christian God has ceased to be believable—is even now beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe. For the few, at least, whose eyes, whose suspicion in their eyes, is strong and sensitive enough for this spectacle, some sun seems to have set just now…” – F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1887)