Technology is becoming part of every aspect of our lives in ways that we never anticipated. Machines are no longer metaphorical helping hands, but with new developments in AI and other technologies, machines may well become entities in and of themselves. That does not mean that they can think independently. Do not let the Sci-fi genre fool you. We are entirely in charge of the actions of these machines and that can make it altogether more intimidating.
In brief, the four revolutions include our jump from the steam engine to artificial intelligence and gene splicing. Now that we have all this power at our disposal, what will we do with it?
There are big questions to ask, of course. Whose life should AI value more: the ones with the greatest chance of survival, the elderly, children or those who are most loved and valued by society? Should digital records and surveillance be used to scan for criminal activity? Can a certain gene combination be patented to ensure that we cannot simply copy and paste the ‘perfect human being’ into each expecting mother? We will, most likely, never be asked to provide answers to these questions directly, but there are smaller dilemmas involved with the ethics surrounding the fourth industrial revolution.
When making decisions that will influence others, perhaps everyone in your business or will dictate how this new AI you just commissioned would act, these three questions might be wise to consider.
What if this went public? If the thought of your next action going public and being broadcasted to the world terrifies you, you might want to think again. Shame is our internal mechanism to stop us from committing morally heinous deeds. If you would not be ashamed for the world to know, you can feel more confident with your decision.
What if this became the universal law? This is an oldie, but goodie. It was first an invention of Immanuel Kant’s mind. An action would be deemed morally acceptable if you would find it acceptable for this action to become law. So if you steal that candy, everybody should always steal candy. Of course, ethics become more complicated than that, but it’s a good place to start.
Is this who I want to be? We each have set values that are born of our circumstances and experiences, but we sometimes fail to live up to those values. Even if many others would agree that the action you wish to take is morally sound, are you sure it aligns with what you believe? This is possibly the most important because morality is a vastly personal set of convictions, different for each of us.
Ethics is not definitive, like maths. There are many answers, not all of them right and many of them only partially wrong. Morality is commonly known as the trait that distinguishes us from animals, so the only thing worse than making a wrong call is not considering ethics at all.