Automation could offer massive opportunities but we must be waryby Sameer Rahim / March 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
“Scientists fear revolt of killer robots.” When he read that headline Alan Winfield, Professor of Robot Ethics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, was shocked. Speaking at a British Academy debate in Bristol, Winfield said he had told the journalist who wrote the story that discussion about robot ethics was simply a case of scientists behaving responsibly. Winfield then spent several days on national radio explaining that scientists do not fear a revolt of killer robots.
Winfield has participated with the British Standards Institute in drafting the world’s first guide to the ethical design of robots and robotics systems. Additionally, he has contributed to Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritising Human Well Being with AI and Autonomous Systems. The purpose was to “bake ethics in from the very beginning of the process of developing these systems.” Think about passenger planes. The reason we trust them is that it is a highly regulated industry with an “amazing safety record.” When it comes to driverless cars, it’s important that we have the equivalent of the Civil Aviation Authority.
Does AI pose a threat to society? Not an “existential one” of course, said Winfield, but we do need to worry about the down-to-earth questions of our “present-day, rather unintelligent AI”: the robots deciding on our loan applications and controlling our central heating systems. The bigger question is: after automation how can we ensure the wealth created by robotics and AI is shared by all society?
Maja Pantic, Professor of Effective and Behavioural Computing at Imperial College London, made the point that artificial intelligence is already changing society. Cashiers are already disappearing in favour of self-scan kiosks; more of us are ordering groceries over the internet. “The whole concept of supermarkets and buying stuff in shops may disappear.” As Google comes to dominate so libraries might become a thing of the past. So why the issue with automated cars? Most of this has come from the United States where a large number of men are employed as truckers. In a cash-strapped NHS, Pantic added, we could have automated carers. Or diagnosis by a computer. Some might say: “How will the doctor ever know what is going on with me?” But our technology for understanding “human facial behaviour is very subtle.” With dementia, for example, powerful cameras that can see 60-100…