Nothing is quite as mystifying and fascinating as new technology that we don’t quite understand. As we learn about AI in real-time, we’re at the behest of media framing that is designed to invite fear and confusion. What brings in more clicks than real-life sci-fi technology, bound to go rogue and take down society at any given moment? 

As AI is implemented in more and more industries and businesses, leaders without a technological background will need to make ethical judgments about machine learning and AI (and not just leave it to the technicians). As such, it’s crucial that all digital economy professionals understand the actual ethical risks and debunk the misconceptions that exist surrounding artificial intelligence.  

No robots, no tech jargon – what is the real-world knowledge you need to know about AI. 

What exactly is AI? 

To put it simply, artificial intelligence is a machine that uses massive amounts of data to find abstract patterns and essentially makes a decision for you. We could call them proxy decision-makers. Or, maybe augmented imagination technologies? Perhaps a mechanical ponzi-scheme? Or is artificial evil or artificial stupidity even more fitting? 

There are enormous implications, not just for individuals but for organisations and wider society in letting technology make decisions that affect real people. As UTS’s Dr Vincent describes, utilising unethical AI involves “basing future decisions on evidence that cannot help but be biased, tainted, exclusionary, and at times intentionally manipulative.”.  

What is the appeal of AI? 

When the term artificial intelligence (AI) was coined in the late 50s, it gave the technology – whether intentionally or not – a very positive spin and a leg-up to its phenomenal success. How could machines that mimic human intelligence be seen as anything other than a miracle of modern science? 
But it’s a word-association trap that Dr Vincent says has been conning business leaders the world over for decades. 

Even though 80% of AI projects fail, and despite systems being created without taking ethics into account, this technology still maintains an allure that has business leaders handing over both their chequebooks and their decisions. 

Why do we need to understand the ethics of AI? 

Your Google search results, dating apps, and social media, all utilise artificial intelligence to make their platform as tailored as possible to the individual (for advertising and user experience). “This constantly exposes us to unintended and covert influences, setting us up to be vulnerable to advertising giants or worse.” Says Dr Vincent. She questions, “should we defer to this same technology to make our most important leadership and personal decisions?”. 

By increasingly deferring leadership decisions to AI, we are not adequately questioning the value, truth, and relevance of the information this technology provides, and the implications can be disastrous. 

From documentaries like The Great Hack, and The Social Dilemma, to news stories about Meta being hit with claims its algorithms have ruined young lives, its clear that not utilising technology ethically can result in scandals or even lawsuits down the line. These are the consequences of company leadership engaging with AI without considering the non-technical implications for their business. 

“The most important lesson for good business is simple: reclaim your authority, and take back your responsibility,” says Dr Vincent. 

If you’d like to hear more from Dr Vincent as well as other experts in ethical AI, UTS’s TD school is hosting an online symposium with ethical AI experts from a range of sectors. Running on the 25th of August, the forum includes an overview of artificial intelligence, automation, algorithms, and data privacy – get tickets here for the free online event. 

To become a certified expert in ethical AI, enrol in one of our short courses and microcredentials. From ethical AI for good business, to principles, practices and regulations, you can find the course that best suits you and your business's needs with UTS Open.