Does Ethics in AI Have Meaning? The Ethics of Using Artificial Intelligence Explained

CareerFoundry contributor Dr. Anneke Schmidt

Ever found yourself scratching your head over Artificial Intelligence (AI) ethics while reading the latest tech news? You’re definitely not alone. Headlines of AI missteps leading to widespread public concern, such as algorithmic bias and compromised data privacy, have become all too common.

For those navigating a career transition or just stepping into the tech realm, it’s crucial to understand this intersection of morality and machine learning in business contexts (read our full article on bias in machine learning here).

If ethics guides us in distinguishing right from wrong, ethical AI principles act as a framework for transparent, fair, and respectful development and deployment of AI technologies.

But as Artificial Intelligence becomes more integrated into our lives, can we trust AI ethics to protect our best interests?

In this article, we’ll discuss current challenges and best practices for responsible AI integration across sectors, with a focus on promoting transparency and a robust AI code of ethics.

Join us as we delve into the following topics: 

  1. AI ethics in business
  2. Ethical considerations and concerns in AI scenarios
  3. Best practices for ethical AI integration across sectors
  4. Key takeaways and future outlook

1. Understanding the importance of AI ethics in business

Recent events have thrown the spotlight on the significance of ethical AI: IBM facing scrutiny for its weather app’s alleged data misappropriation, and Optum being investigated for potential racial bias in its algorithm. Through these instances, the critical nature of ethical AI became undeniable.

According to a white paper from The Alan Turing Institute, AI technologies aren’t just tools; they’re instruments for “data science for social good,” laden with inherent value judgments.

Now, if businesses aspire to be part of this progressive shift, they must prioritize data responsibility and AI ethics at their core. Why? Because overlooking this aspect threatens their reputation and the very trust of their consumer base.

So, where does the conversation on AI ethics in business really stand, and why should organizations lean in? To truly appreciate the gravity and nuances of this conversation, let’s start by demystifying the core concept itself.

What are ethics in AI?

In November 2021, UNESCO unveiled the first-ever global standard on AI ethics—the “Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.” Since then, the significance of AI ethics has only grown.

It’s a multidisciplinary field that delves deep into the ethical dimensions of AI design, usage, and impact. This domain meticulously addresses an array of principles and concerns, such as:

  • Transparency and Accountability: Ensuring the openness and responsibility of AI
  • Privacy: Protecting and respecting sensitive personal data
  • Fairness: Counteracting biases for equitable outcomes
  • Beneficence: Harnessing AI for human good while minimizing risks
  • Freedom and Autonomy: Preserving human rights and liberties amid AI’s influence
  • Trust: Building reliable, secure AI systems that maintain public confidence
  • Sustainability: Embracing environmentally-conscious AI designs
  • Dignity: Guaranteeing AI respects human worth and avoids dehumanization
  • Solidarity: Acknowledging AI’s broader societal implications
  • Non-maleficence: Ensuring AI systems do not harm humans

AI ethics also involves other complex issues such as moral agency, value alignment, and technology misuse. It’s an evolving field that calls for ongoing dialogue among scientists, ethicists, policymakers, and other stakeholders.

Why are AI ethics important for business

Businesses are rapidly discovering that AI not only maximizes solutions but also risks. With such power at their fingertips, they must take ethical considerations seriously. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Avoidance of legal and reputational risk: Ethical AI use helps businesses sidestep legal pitfalls and bad press. Unethical AI, especially from biased data, can result in significant legal penalties and tarnish a company’s public image.
  2. Protection of Consumer Privacy: With AI’s data-heavy nature, businesses must prioritize ethical data use to maintain trust. Mishandling personal data can erode customer confidence and bring about legal repercussions.
  3. Enhancement of Product Quality and Safety: Adopting ethical AI standards bolsters product safety and quality. Conversely, unethical AI can produce defective outputs, posing risks to consumers and businesses.

2. Ethical considerations and concerns in AI scenarios

Having explored the broad rationale behind AI ethics and why businesses should care, it’s now crucial to understand how these theoretical principles play out in real-world contexts.

Let’s consider the tangible ethical dilemmas businesses grapple with today when integrating AI into hiring, data privacy measures, and algorithmic design:

AI in hiring

Data-driven decision-making has revolutionized hiring, offering unparalleled insights. Yet, boundaries blur. Imagine a job applicant discovering that AI analyzed their Facebook activity to evaluate their cultural fit for a company.

Is it morally acceptable to extract this data for recruitment purposes, considering that users typically utilize social media platforms in an informal capacity and the applications weren’t designed for job screening?

Legally, things get murkier. If AI tools infer, for instance, an applicant’s religious beliefs from subtle online hints, they might unknowingly sideline them, breaching nondiscrimination laws.

As the frontier of AI-driven recruitment expands, businesses must strike a balance between harnessing its power and respecting the human complexities that can’t be reduced to mere data points.

The challenges of maintaining data privacy in AI applications

Another significant concern is the complex relationship between big data and AI-driven applications, such as generative AI tools. Think OpenAI’s ChatGPT—a tech marvel but also a potential GDPR minefield. Even though these tools are touted as confidential, the nitty-gritty reveals they:

  • Collect personal data like IP addresses and browsing habits, which could be shared with third parties
  • Automatically opt users into data collection and offer little control over what data is stored
  • Struggle with the “right to erasure” concept, making GDPR compliance a massive hurdle
  • Operate on personal data, like emails and messages—whose privacy norms are yet to be determined

Given AI providers’ explicit limited liability clauses, businesses must rigorously assess and mitigate potential legal exposures before integrating generative AI solutions.

Bias and fairness: The ongoing concerns in AI algorithms

As we have seen, the line between revolutionary innovation and unintended prejudice can be razor-thin in AI. It’s a space where machines learn, evolve, and often mirror the biases of their training data.

To put it into perspective, think of machine learning models as a lens. If this lens has only been exposed to a specific color spectrum, it might misinterpret or even miss out on colors outside of that spectrum.

For instance, Amazon’s facial recognition system was trained predominantly on white faces, resulting in inadequate recognition of darker-skinned individuals—a clear reflection of machine learning bias.

Similarly, in predictive policing, biases get magnified. If models are trained predominantly on data from specific neighborhoods or demographics, they might unjustly target these communities, exacerbating existing societal prejudices.

For a deeper dive into the intricacies of bias in machine learning, check out our complete guide here.

3. Best practices for ethical AI integration across sectors

Given these obvious risks, businesses should take a proactive approach towards ethical AI integration. Here are some best practices for ensuring responsible and transparent use of AI across sectors:

Create an AI ethical risk framework for your industry

When tailoring an ethical risk framework for AI, consider the unique nuances of your industry. For example, finance might focus on crafting digital identities and measures to ensure ethical international transactions. Healthcare professionals must emphasize the sanctity of privacy, especially as AI leads the path to precision medicine.

Meanwhile, for retail sectors, where recommendation engines are crucial, there’s an urgency to devise ways to rectify and curb associative biases, ensuring that recommendations aren’t inadvertently steering towards any form of stereotype.

Whatever the industry or sector, an AI ethical risk framework must align with the organization’s purpose and values. It should be a collaborative effort involving all stakeholders to ensure comprehensive coverage of ethical risks.

Address stakeholder concerns proactively

Before stakeholders raise eyebrows, it’s important to anticipate and, if possible, tackle potential ethical dilemmas before they arise. This helps build trust and credibility among customers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders. 

One way to do this is by involving them in the AI development process and asking for their feedback when making decisions. Consider an e-commerce platform developing an AI recommendation system, for instance.

Engaging a diverse set of customers in testing can help spot biases, like those leaning on gender stereotypes. Acting on this feedback allows for algorithm refinement, ensuring recommendations cater more to personal tastes rather than generic stereotypes.

Such a proactive stance enhances the system’s efficiency and boosts the company’s image as a responsible AI user.

Develop your organization’s AI Code of Ethics

An AI Code of Ethics is a documented set of principles and guidelines that ensure an organization’s responsible and ethical use of artificial intelligence. The document might cover areas such as:

  • Policy Adherence: Establish clear frameworks, address legal considerations, and align with international efforts like the Asilomar AI Principles.
  • Inclusivity: Ensure unbiased AI systems that cater to all of society. Regularly audit data sources and models to address and prevent biases.
  • Explainability: Choose understandable and justifiable algorithms, even if they slightly compromise performance.
  • Purpose-Driven AI: Focus on AI applications with positive impacts, like fraud reduction and climate change mitigation. Guard against misuse.
  • Responsible Data Use: Prioritize data privacy and transparency by collecting only necessary information and regularly deleting obsolete data.
  • Continuous Monitoring: Monitor AI performance, identify areas for improvement, and assess its societal impact.

The process and goals of developing AI standards will differ across industries and organizations, reflecting each sector’s unique ethical considerations.

Build transparency into AI projects

Transparent AI isn’t just about openness in design and development. Take customer-facing chatbots, for example. Such AI-enabled systems can be transparent with customers in a variety of ways.

For instance, by openly informing users that they’re communicating with an AI rather than a human, organizations set clear expectations.

They can also offer links or references to the sources and data used by the chatbot to generate responses, thereby allowing customers to better understand and trust the system.

In addition to outward-facing transparency, internal transparency is equally important. This means providing clear explanations of AI algorithms to employees who are using or impacted by them. It also involves being open about the organization’s ethical principles and decision-making processes regarding AI use.

A great way to do this is employing what’s known as the Human-in-the-Loop to learning and developing systems, which you can learn more about in our guide.

4. Key takeaways and future outlook

We’re living in times of drastic change. Ethical AI stands at the intersection of evolving technology and society’s values. If we don’t lay out guiding principles, we risk letting AI reinforce biases and deepen societal divides.

Whether you work in a tech job like full-stack development, data analytics, UX design, or another sector that uses AI, it’s crucial to understand the ethical implications of these innovations and actively work towards mitigating risks.

As we move forward, transparency and collaboration will be essential for building responsible AI systems, paving the way for a future where tech and human potential intertwine.

Want to delve deeper into this topic? Check out our related resources:

What You Should Do Now

  1. Check out one of our free short courses in design, data analytics, coding, digital marketing, and product management.

  2. Become a qualified UX designer, UI designer, web developer, product manager, digital marketer, or data analyst in less than a year—complete with a job guarantee.

  3. Talk to a program advisor to discuss career change and find out which fields are best for you, or check out recent graduate Tanimara’s successful career-change story.

  4. This month, we’re offering a partial scholarship worth up to $1,365 off on all of our career-change programs to the first 100 students who apply 🎉 Book your application call and secure your spot now!

What is CareerFoundry?

CareerFoundry is an online school for people looking to switch to a rewarding career in tech. Select a program, get paired with an expert mentor and tutor, and become a job-ready designer, developer, or analyst from scratch, or your money back.

Learn more about our programs