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       The laws of consequence                             The maths of morality

       The concept of consequence is nothing new. Scientists   If technology is able to zoom in and out, offering more
       have been studying its  behavior for centuries. Newton   micro  and  macro  insights  into  human  behavior  and
       reminds  us  in  his  third  law  that  every  action  has  an   impact, how do we ensure that insight will translate into
       equal and opposite reaction; Clausius and Kelvin tell us   ethical action? In other words, how can we make sure
       in the first law of thermodynamics that energy cannot be   the robots and ‘biota’ and ‘Mama Gaia’ will all want to
       created or destroyed ‒ only transformed from one form   be  friends?  The  question  is  not  so  easy,  when  you
       to  another.  So,  when  we  extract  oil  from  the  earth,   consider the complexities of overpopulation, short-term
       transforming  its  thermal  energy  into  kinetic  energy  to   profit gain, and demands for environmental protection,
       turn a turbine to generate electricity for our household   all running side by side and vying for more on top. If we
       use, we have to know there will be a consequence on   ever  want  to  tap  into  the  heartbeat  of  our  own  Gaia,
       the other side of the equation. Look no further than our   we’ll have to invest far more in the algorithm of ethics.
       melting ice caps for exhibit A.
                                                           Says Pedro Domingos, author of the recent book The
       But,  as  our  devices  become  all  the  more  embedded   Master Algorithm, “I actually don’t think it’s that hard to
       with intelligence, and IoT rolls merrily our way, we have   encode  ethical  considerations  into  machine  learning
       less  excuses  not  to  connect  the  dots  into  the  future.   algorithms.”  However,  he  notes:  “The  big  question  is
       Machine  learning  will  increasingly  make  sense  of  the   whether  we  human  beings  are  able  to  formalize  our
       vast oceans of data flooding in daily, filtering out helpful   ethical  beliefs  in  a  halfway  coherent  and  complete
       insights and patterns to enable improvements in nearly   way.” The real issue is, as custodians of a moral code,
       every  sphere  of  life.  Machines  will  most  probably  get   are human beings even able to articulate and agree on
       very good at pointing out the opportunities and pitfalls,   what’s right and wrong?
       and we will be left to steward these key insights.
                                                           At  this  relatively  early  stage  of  AI  advancement,  the
       An apocalyptic alternative                          onus is on us to intersect and qualify the moral code for
                                                           sustainability,  planet  and  population  alike.  If  we  can
       Of  course,  there  are  warning  lights  everywhere.  The   learn  to  connect  our  technologies  to  understand  the
       ubiquitous concern is that we’re frantically investing in a   rhythms  and  impacts  of  symbiotic  living,  we  may  not
       world  order  that  could  potentially  outrun  our  human   have to strap those moon boots on and plan our earthly
       capacities and ingenuity, offering no promise to keep us   exodus just yet.
       in it someday. Experts like Nick Bostrom warn us of the
       grave danger in controlling AI, including Elon Musk who   Perhaps the notion of Pandora was not as ‘out there’ as
       predicts its powers to trigger WW3 and eventually wipe   it seemed. Our world is extraordinarily interwoven; we
       out humanity.                                       may  just  be  building  the  tools  to  interpret  and
                                                           manipulate its complexity for the better. But as systems
       But apocalyptic singularity is only one way of looking at   sophisticate, the question governing our future will not
       it.  Some  of  the  world’s  top  entrepreneurs  are   be so much how we will steward this responsibility, but
       suggesting a more cooperative, hands-on approach to   rather will we? ◊
       the issue. Industry leaders such as Eric Schmidt, Peter
       Thiel  and  Elon  Musk  have  invested  billions  in  the
       research  and  promotion  of  ethical  AI  to  ‘benefit
       humanity  as  a  whole’.  Called  OpenAI,  the  new  non-
       profit  is  aimed  at  developing  artificial  intelligence  that   By Matt Gurr,
       will  serve  as  a  tool  to  help  solve  major  challenges,   Associate at Aurecon -
                                                           Electrical Engineer, Design
       including climate change and food security. They argue   Leader and Mission Critical/
       our  technologies  can  become forces for  greater  good,   Datacentre Specialist
       rather  than  shovels  for  our  species’  grave.  Says
       Facebook’s  chief  technology  officer  Mike  Schroepfer,
       “The  power  of  AI  technology  is  it  can  solve  problems   This post originally appeared on Aurecon’s Just Imagine blog.
       that scale to the whole planet.”

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