“The uselessness of AI ethics”

A good friend wasn’t trying to be provocative when he told me that a clear sign a field had lost its energy was when its discussions were everywhere overtaken by ethics. If it’s energy you’re looking for, he went on to sau, look to the boundaries and tangent points with other fields in competition with it. His example of the latter was Herbert Simon’s move into artificial intelligence.

As a thought experiment then, let’s ask the question: With all these discussions of AI ethics, is AI actually more a moribund field in ways not commonly supposed?

As the ethicists are also talking about sub-fields like machine learning (ML) and algorithmic decisionmaking (ADM), are these moribund in ways we–that is, those of us who become instant experts in AI by reading the secondary literature–do not comprehend?

For example, rapid obsolescence of software and equipment used in ML and ADM is a topic that, at least to this point (and I stand to be corrected), hasn’t been given as much attention as readers might expect. To my mind, this topic is more important that transparency or fairness, since obsolescence changes the “with-respect-to-what’s” of the latter.

Principal sources

Fortmann-Roe, S. and E. Roe (forthcoming). “Key Dimensions of Algorithmic Management, Machine Learning and Big Data in Differing Large Sociotechnical Systems, with Implications for Systemwide Safety Management.” Chapter forthcoming in Safety in the Digital Age (Eds. J-C LeCoze and S. Antonsen, tentative title), Springer.

Munn, L. (2022). “The uselessness of AI ethics.” AI and Ethics (accessed online on September 21 2022 at https://doi.org/10.1007/s43681-022-00209-w)

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