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The Ethics of Deep Learning AI and the Epistemic Opacity Dilemma

Even the weak kind of artificial intelligence that often controls our on-line shopping recommendations presents ethical implications and challenges. Ethical problems with more traditional non-AI type algorithms and programs tend to be about what is put into those programs. Gender, racial, and cultural bias, for example. Due to the familiar concept of ‘garbage in garbage out’ – one gets from a traditional computer system the values and ideas that one ‘codes’, and thus encodes, into it. Stronger versions of AI present further challenges associated with their unpredictability and resistance to analysis. They are based upon complex black box algorithms that resist a full analysis of their functions and logic. The project of finding an ethical solution to this opacity is becoming increasingly urgent. In this post I describe some of the challenges and present an epistemic dilemma with an associated ethical dilemma. I then briefly suggest a possible solution which I feel deserves to be tested.

There are many philosophical treatments of artificial intelligence, and of its ethical problems. Some approaches embody scientistic enthusiasm and anticipate quite spectacular outcomes involving trans-humans and superintelligences. Their proponents accept premises about such things as extended cognition, according to which our cognition is already augmented by such technology as smartphones and The Internet. Normative ethics of information, computing, and AI done on this basis take seriously anticipated problems like the singularity – that point at which strong AI surpasses human level-intelligence and becomes artificial super intelligence.

Other theorists are more conservative and cautious (Calo, 2017, pp. 432–434). For example, philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett has warned that philosophical treatments of the singularity are currently little more than fanciful speculation. There are also sobering voices in both the computer science and neuroscience community. Recently, when asked if AI would emulate human cognition in the near future, neuroscience pioneer Tomaso Poggio responded “Not a chance.”

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