AI, Ethics and the Human Element

By: Pat Ward, Vice President, Integrated Payments at North American Bancard

As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more powerful and common place, there is a great interest in making sure this technology is used in a responsible manner. The rapid integration of new tools and technology can seem like a great idea as it helps streamline work processes, or even, in the example of some military solutions, take humans out of harm’s way. AI is being positioned to deliver on the notion of a more efficient and sustainable society, but this also begs the question of how will ethics come into play with AI?

AI is an excellent solution that helps free workers up from tedious tasks, allows for greater creativity, and improves efficiency. Smart machines continue to be incorporated into jobs that have, historically, been for humans, so looking at the technology that is currently around us and asking how it might influence or interact in ways that we are yet to anticipate is of growing concern. While a Terminator-esk example is what many envision; the likelihood of such an extreme breakthrough where machines have become hyperintellignet – with extreme consequences for humanity – is a scenario we shouldn’t focus on. Instead, our focus needs to be on balancing innovation with ethical decision making to make sure the human element is part of the equation.

What are some of the ethical risks associated?
There are unique ethical risks that are inherent with AI, and aren’t typically associated with conventional information technology solutions. Because AI automates judgements, concerns are raised around the design, development, and implementation of any given AI solution. Some of the concerns include:

  1. Employee displacement: Companies might use AI to automate various job duties, and a concern exists from workforces that the rising AI-driven automation will lead to job cuts.
  2. Privacy: AI systems learn based on the datasets with which they are trained. There is a fear that the data may create a lack of privacy and even magnify assumptions or biases towards genders or ethnic groups.
  3. Transparency and accountability: A growing concern exists as to who will oversee and bear responsibility for any harm that these AI systems might cause. Additionally, there remains a certain level of unknown about how the AI systems function and are even explained. Ethical disclosure of the workings of the system and how data is used continues to be a strong pain point for many.

How do we align AI with human values?
With the significant number of companies seeing AI as a critical component to their sustained success, concerns about the misuse of technology is increasing. The conversation many organizations are having about responsible AI is not exclusive to concerns about controversial applications of technology. It also includes how AI is being leveraged for many common activities like social media interaction, credit applications, and even company hiring decisions.

What steps can be taken to make sure AI ethics are a priority?

  1. Ease employee nerves: Technology will no doubt have an impact on certain job functions. We can ease concerns of employees by being transparent and honest about new solutions that will automate certain mundane functions.
  2. Maintain a balance: Companies need to weigh all the risks and benefits of an AI solution, and make a decision appropriately. The correct integration of AI with the overall business mission should be the focus, rather than just adopting a solution to “keep pace” with competitors.
  3. Use tech to minimize risk: The organization wants to have a multi-layered approach towards risk mitigation, and that can involve the appropriate use of advanced analytical tools that will help detect new trends and eliminate variables of system bias.
  4. A transparent committee: Establishing an advisory committee of cross-company leaders to ensure all voices are heard will help guide the best way an AI solution is used. This committee should share regular updates and maintain open lines of communication to others that don’t have a tech background.
  5. Future focus: AI is the newest frontier that offers incredible educational and career opportunities. Specialized and high-paying jobs are in great demand now, and this sector will only grow because the current talent gap. Academia and career-oriented paths are available for those that want to be on the cutting edge of technological solutions for our future.

Anytime a new technology is introduced there is bound to be some concerns. The benefits and risks of an AI system is no different. It is up to the leaders of companies, and industries, to help balance the risks and benefits so goals and organizational responsibilities can continue to push forward. As we continue to take advantage of AI technology to improve business performance and efficiency, we must continue to consider the ethical questions raised by this technology. The sooner we can develop a balance of understanding a familiarity, the sooner we will be able to appropriately leverage the technology in an effective and ethically responsible way.

Pat is in his second decade in the Payments Industry. Throughout his career he’s focused on creating long-term and profitable partnerships with best-of-breed Independent Software Vendors. Since joining North American Bancard (NAB) in 2014, Pat has been instrumental in building out NAB’s Integrated and Semi-Integrated Partner Programs, and for bringing some of the best POS companies into the NAB Family.