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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

Even as the practical uses of artificial intelligence have expanded -think voice commands on a cell phone, a self-driving car, a voice-activated Internet search, or a legal research droid- ethical guidelines for its use are non-existent. As AI advances, companies are taking note and pledging safe responsible use of AI.

Last week, several tech giants announced a Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and soon, Apple, have teamed-up to develop a collection of best-practices for AI. The stated mission of the partnership:
The regular engagement of experts across multiple disciplines (including but not limited to psychology, philosophy, economics, finance, sociology, public policy, and law) to discuss and provide guidance on emerging issues related to the impact of AI on society.
Ever since the First Laws of Robotics appeared in Issac Asimov's science fiction writing in 1942, AI is commonly conceptualized in these terms:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
While Greg Powell and "Speedy" the droid may not be well known to Millennials, even the Boomer-era Luddites among us will recall the classic scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey when HAL 9000, the robot responsible for getting Discovery One to Jupiter, arguably violates the first law.
Dave: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL? 
HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you. 
Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL. 
HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. 
Dave: What's the problem? 
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do. 
Dave: What are you talking about, HAL? 
HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. 
Dave: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL. 
HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen. 
Dave: Where the hell did you get that idea, HAL?  
HAL: Dave, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move. 
Dave: Alright, HAL. I'll go in through the emergency airlock. 
HAL: Without your space helmet, Dave? You're going to find that rather difficult. 
Dave: HAL, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors! 
HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye. 
A more practical and urgent version of this scenario involves a self-driving vehicle conundrum. Due to a combination of traffic circumstances and human error(s), imagine a smart-vehicle faces two options: swerve away from a group of humans [either pedestrians or passengers], in which case the human that initiated the vehicle trip, and possibly the existence of the vehicle droid, are at risk of certain termination, or - preserve the trip-initiating human, and preserve the robot's existence, sacrificing the other humans.

How will the self-driving smart car resolve this dilemma? This and other mechanical, administrative yet philosophical questions will be thoroughly vetted by the new AI Partnership.

Today's Sunday NYT announced critical amendments to California's motor vehicle code which open the door to allowing self-driving cars; cars that do not have steering wheels or gas pedals. Last month, Philadelphia announced it would develop a platform for driverless Uber rides across the city on an asap basis.  

From a products liability perspective, personal injury lawyers undoubtedly see job security as the first injury lawsuits from errant drones start hitting the courts. Self-driving vehicles cannot be far behind.

As this is getting cranked-up, let's see when Apple joins the partnership and we will track any posted ethical rules in the development and implementation of AI technologies. Even with the such a high-profile collaboration, it remains to be seen whether any tech company will follow a set of ethical rules over its pursuit of profits; we here at the Law Blogger are not holding our breath.

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