mobile | classic
Dataweek Electronics & Communications Technology Magazine

Follow us on:
Follow us on Facebook Share via Twitter Share via LinkedIn


Electronics Buyers' Guide

Electronics Manufacturing & Production Handbook 2019


From the editor’s desk: The ethics of AI
12 September 2018, News

This year, employees at Google have very publicly protested against the company’s involvement in projects they are concerned about. The first protest was over Project Maven, a programme developed for the US military to speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people. The fallout saw thousands of employees signing a petition and about a dozen resigning, citing ethical concerns over the use of AI (artificial intelligence) technology in drone warfare as well as worries about the company’s political decisions. The outcry ultimately led to Google announcing that it will not seek another contract in that arena.

The latest controversy revolves around Dragonfly, a project to provide China with search and personalised mobile news services that comply with the government’s censorship and surveillance requirements. In a letter to Google management, employees lamented that “currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment. That the decision to build Dragonfly was made in secret, and progressed even with the AI Principles in place, makes clear that the Principles alone are not enough. We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table, and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building.”

The AI Principles referred to basically comprise a high-level construct equivalent to Isaac Asimov’s famed ‘Three Laws of Robotics’. In a nutshell, the principles Google engineers seek to uphold are that AI should: 1) Be socially beneficial; 2) Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias; 3) Be built and tested for safety; 4) Be accountable to people; 5) Incorporate privacy design principles; 6) Uphold high standards of scientific excellence; 7) Be made available for uses that accord with these principles. The principles also explicitly exclude AI development for technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm or personal injury, and technologies that are unfairly used for surveillance.

On the one hand it’s encouraging to see engineers take an ethical stand like this. Far too often I think there is a tendency to just do the engineering and leave the ethics to somebody else. It also says a lot about Google’s company culture that employees feel empowered to take a stand like this, and about the power of social media and the Internet as a medium for them to bring their concerns into the public awareness.

On the other hand maybe ethics shouldn’t be the domain of engineers, or at least their problem. Maybe Google will just go out and find engineers who don’t have the same moral qualms, or are willing to sign away their rights to object when they sign their employment contract. If they were clever about it, they could probably compartmentalise a project’s development in such a way that the components all seem innocent but they are able to be integrated into a nefarious whole. But as we’ve seen time and time again, nowadays it just takes one leak about subterfuge of that kind and the scandal can bring even the biggest company to its knees (or at least give it a solid kick to the shins).

On an emotional level, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to see these guys taking a stand. To encourage or accept a culture in which people disengage their work from their ethical concerns is not the kind of world I want to live in. It also bodes well for the future of AI and for oversight of its application, seeing as it has the potential for so much harm.

AI might one day reach the point where the ‘intelligence’ part is indistinguishable from a human’s, but we must make sure the ‘artificial’ part never gets overlooked. We are not artificial, we are the real thing and it is important that we care about ethics and take a stand to protect them.

Brett van den Bosch


Supplied By: Technews Publishing
Tel: +27 11 543 5800
Fax: +27 11 787 8052
  Share on Facebook Share via Twitter Share via LinkedIn    

Further reading:

  • Electronics news digest
    29 May 2019, News
    South Africa • South Africa will soon join the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network (C4IR Network) alongside China, India and Japan by launching an affiliate ...
  • From the editor’s desk: US-China trade war hits chip makers
    29 May 2019, Technews Publishing, News
    The escalating trade war between the US and China has the global economy on high alert, and unless things normalise soon it is going to have massive ramifications on many industries. Following US president ...
  • Otto Wireless scoops two new agencies
    29 May 2019, Otto Wireless, News
    Otto Wireless Solutions has recently been appointed as the official distributor for two overseas manufacturers of RF and microwave components: Taiwanese microwave ceramic components designer and manufacturer, ...
  • Actum acquires Band-It business in South Africa
    29 May 2019, Actum Electronics, News
    The Actum Group has acquired Banding and Identification Solutions Africa (BISA), the leading distributor of Band-It clamping and fastening products in South Africa. The transaction, which was finalised ...
  • CSIR outlines new strategy
    29 May 2019, News
    The CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) has revealed details about its new strategic direction, built around the vision of accelerating socioeconomic prosperity in South Africa through ...
  • The ubiquity of IoT in design
    29 May 2019, News
    The Internet of Things (IoT) is a wave that impacts all ‘verticals’ and ‘horizontals’ of the digital evolution, and organisations who deliver design and manufacturing services in this hazy matrix are ...
  • Otto Wireless presents the T-Link Experience
    29 May 2019, Otto Wireless, News
    On 20 June, Otto Wireless Solutions, together with TP-Link, will be hosting a half-day product showcase conference at Riversands conference venue. The event will be an intense half-day session, commencing ...
  • Electronics news digest
    30 April 2019, News
    South Africa • The CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) – which will turn 75 in 2020 – has plotted a new strategic direction built around the vision of accelerating socioeconomic prosperity ...
  • From the editor’s desk: The unseen role of component distributors
    30 April 2019, Technews Publishing, News
    FAEs play an essential role in bridging the engineering world where things are designed and made, and the business world where big decisions are taken and money changes hands.
  • Is the supply chain broken?
    30 April 2019, Electrocomp, Diel Met Systems, ExecuKit, NuVision Electronics, RF Design, This Week's Editor's Pick, News
    The world’s insatiable demand for electronic goods has created a monster: a supply chain that spans the globe and relies on the entirety of our collective knowledge and experience in the pursuit of industry.
  • Win an AVR-IoT WG development board
    30 April 2019, News
    Dataweek readers are being offered the opportunity to win a Microchip Technology AVR-IoT WG development board (AC164160) to make it easy to deploy IoT devices to Google Cloud IoT Core’s artificial intelligence ...
  • 4IRSA launches digital economy summit
    30 April 2019, News
    The launch of South Africa’s first ‘digital economy’ summit, endorsed by Cabinet, was announced at the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub by the minister of telecommunications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, ...

Technews Publishing (Pty) Ltd
1st Floor, Stabilitas House
265 Kent Ave, Randburg, 2194
South Africa
Publications by Technews
Dataweek Electronics & Communications Technology
Electronics Buyers’ Guide (EBG)

Hi-Tech Security Solutions
Hi-Tech Security Business Directory

Motion Control in Southern Africa
Motion Control Buyers’ Guide (MCBG)

South African Instrumentation & Control
South African Instrumentation & Control Buyers’ Guide (IBG)
Terms & conditions of use, including privacy policy
PAIA Manual


    Classic | Mobile

Copyright © Technews Publishing (Pty) Ltd. All rights reserved.