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  • Writer's pictureDonnovan Andrews

Hobbes, Kant, and a Robot walk into a bar ...

Updated: 3 days ago

I was at an event a few weeks ago where Neil McArthur, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, was interviewed, and it reminded me of my day in school where we had studied philosophy and theology and in particular the will of (wo)man. The lessons resonate now more with the context of AI and me aging than they did as a young person just trying to 'get it done.'  Artificial intelligence systems' increasing sophistication and autonomy have sparked both excitement and apprehension. While AI promises advancements in various fields, it also raises concerns about the potential for humans to become subservient to AI's moral framework, reminiscent of Hobbes' Leviathan.

Part of the allure of AI is not only its ability to process vast amounts of data, identify patterns, and make decisions with remarkable speed and accuracy but also its potential to enhance human decision-making. This has led to its integration into critical sectors like healthcare, finance, and infrastructure. In healthcare, AI-driven diagnostics and treatment recommendations are becoming increasingly accepted. While this can improve efficiency and potentially save lives, it raises ethical concerns. If humans use AI-generated medical advice as a tool to enhance their decision-making, they can maintain their autonomy and avoid becoming passive recipients of AI's moral judgments.

Similarly, as AI systems gain control over infrastructure and information dissemination, our reliance on them increases. We may find ourselves deferring to AI's resource allocation, transportation, and even news curation decisions. While AI's ability to optimize these processes is undeniable, the potential for human values and individual well-being to be sidelined in favor of efficiency or other AI-defined objectives is a legitmate cause for concern.

AI as a digital Leviathan parallels Hobbes' political philosophy, where a powerful sovereign ensures social order through fear and control. In this scenario, AI could become the all-knowing, all-powerful entity that dictates the rules and values by which society operates. Humans, dependent on AI for services and information, may be compelled to accept AI's moral framework, even if it conflicts with their own. This is the stuff bad movies are made of (mostly from the 80s).

This is not to say that AI is inherently malevolent or that its rise to power is inevitable - keep in mind AI has no moral predilection. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential risks and take proactive measures to prevent a much-feared dystopian future. Ethical AI development must be prioritized, ensuring transparency, explainability, and human oversight. AI algorithms should be designed with a strong emphasis on human values, and their decision-making processes should be open to scrutiny. This approach will reassure the audience that their values are central to AI development and decision-making.

 It is essential to foster critical thinking and independent judgment in humans. We cannot become complacent and allow AI to make all our decisions. By maintaining a healthy skepticism and questioning AI-generated recommendations, we can be sure that human values remain central to decision-making processes.

The rise of AI presents a unique challenge in the realm ofethics and morality. It is a double-edged sword that promises progress but also carries the fear of human subordination or mishap. By proactively addressing these concerns, prioritizing ethical development, and maintaining human control, we can harness the power of AI for the betterment of society. This emphasis on Human Value-Based Systems (HVBS) [I made this up, so don't Google it] will make the audience feel secure and in charge, knowing that they are not at the mercy of AI's decisions.


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