The purpose of this blogpost is to enumerate the declared ethical positions of major players in the data world. This is a work in progress.
In June 2018, Sundar Pinchai (Google CEO) announced a set of AI principles for Google. This includes seven principles, four application areas that Google will avoid (including weapons), references to international law and human rights, and a commitment to a long-term sustainable perspective.
Also worth noting the statement on AI ethics and social impact published by DeepMind last year. (DeepMind was accquired by Google in 2014 and is now a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet.)
In January 2017, Ginni Rometty (IBM CEO) announced a set of Principles for the Cognitive Era.
This was followed up in October 2017, with a more detailed ethics statement for data and intelligence, entitled Data Responsibility @IBM.
In January 2018, Brad Smith (Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer) announced a book called The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society, to which he had contributed a forward.
These comments are mostly directed at the Google principles, because these are the most recent. However, many of them apply equally to the others. Commentators have also remarked on the absence of ethical declarations from Amazon.
Many commentators have welcomed Google’s position on military AI, and congratulate those Google employees who lobbied for discontinuing its work with the US Department of Defense analysing drone footage, known as Project Maven. @kateconger, Google Plans Not to Renew Its Contract for Project Maven, a Controversial Pentagon Drone AI Imaging Program (Gizmodo 1 June 2018) Google Backtracks, Says Its AI Will Not Be Used for Weapons or Surveillance, (Gizmodo 7 June 2018)
@EricNewcomer talks about What Google’s AI Principles Left Out (Bloomberg 8 June 2018). He reckons we’re in a “golden age for hollow corporate statements sold as high-minded ethical treatises”, complains that the Google principles are “peppered with lawyerly hedging and vague commitments”, and asks about governance – “who decides if Google has fulfilled its commitments”.
@katecrawford(Twitter 8 June 2018) also asks about governance. “How are they implemented? Who decides? There’s no mention of process, or people, or how they’ll evaluate if a tool is ‘beneficial’. Are they… autonomous ethics?” And @mer__edith (Twitter 8 June 2018) calls for “strong governance, independent external oversight and clarity”.
Andrew McStay (Twitter 8 June 2018) asks about Google’s business model. “Please tell me if you spot any reference to advertising, or how Google actually makes money. Also, I’d be interested in knowing if Government “work” dents reliance on ads.”
Earlier, in relation to DeepMind’s ethics and social impact statement, @riptari (Natasha Lomas) suggested that “it really shouldn’t need a roster of learned academics and institutions to point out the gigantic conflict of interest in a commercial AI giant researching the ethics of its own technology’s societal impacts” (TechCrunch October 2017). See also my post on Conflict of Interest (March 2018).
@rachelcoldicutt asserts that “ethical declarations like these need to have subjects. … If they are to be useful, and can be taken seriously, we need to know both who they will be good for and who they will harm.” She complains that the Google principles fail on these counts. (Tech ethics, who are they good for? Medium 8 June 2018)
Why Responsibility by Design Now? (October 2018)
Updated 11 June 2018. Link to later post added 18 October 2018.