Ethics, AI, and Tech for Good 2.0

The word ethics is laden with subjectivity, and often shunned by businesses for being “too fluffy.” We all strive for good moral and ethical behavior, but achieving that without too much of one’s own individual subjectivity is difficult, especially in global businesses, where cultural norms and moral codes are different in different parts of the world.

Yet in a world that is increasingly digital where would we be without it?  Soft words like values, moral, and ethics in fact, matter more than ever.  It is easy to find examples in the headlines of companies that are getting it wrong.

A data-driven world means things happen much faster and with less transparency for users as the complexity of solutions grow.  Many people have traded their privacy for convenience, and aren’t even aware that it is being compromised.  But that is slowly coming to the surface.  Many tech companies are facing PR challenges around trust, where users are increasingly tired of their privacy being violated, their integrity being undermined, and bias and discrimination increasingly becoming a norm.  Regardless of where a company is on the digitalization journey, be it AI or other data-driven uses of technology, it is becoming increasingly clear that trust will be a new currency among stakeholders.

A new tech paradigm is needed.  Whether or not there should be an “ethical AI” is the wrong question. It’s the same parallel as whether a company should have “sustainable product,” vs. the integration of sustainability into the core business and operations of the company.  It’s the mistake that so many make.  As long as we continue to create separate silos, the ethical AI vs. the non ethical, the sustainable vs. the non sustainable, we will not be able to identify, measure and govern how AI is scaling in a broader societal context.  And AI is different – because it’s self-learning and self-propagating and self-scaling.

Therefore, all AI needs to have a sustainability lens.  It is not until business really starts to integrate the principal of “society” into their core business, together with their financial bottom line, that we will be able to assess and manage different types of impacts from business, be they risks or opportunities, and furthermore, avoid the trap of greenwashing.

The AI Sustainability Center is going to be a global hub to help companies act proactively, as AI systems mature.  There is nothing really out there today that helps companies to navigate the sustainability elements of the technologies of the future.  And that’s especially concerning when you think about how fast the technology is evolving.  So this is tech for good 2.0.  It’s easy to imagine all the wonderful uses of AI — for solving diseases like cancer, in humanitarian response, in achieving the SDGs, etc.  But the discussion should be just as much about preventing the pitfalls or, technology for bad.  Because AI is different: the risks are exponential, just like the benefits.

The center bases its approach on Nordic values such as inclusiveness, diversity, gender equality, openness, transparency and accountability.  Sweden has a long history and experience and is well recognized globally for putting both values, and sustainability, high on the agenda.  Our view at the center is that the soft words matter, and that a sustainability lens will be even more important as technology continues to evolve.  On that note, I think we could all benefit from a dose of the Nordics.