Stanford University researchers have found that many tech companies are not living up to their promises to prioritize the ethical development of artificial intelligence (AI). Despite publishing AI principles and employing social scientists and engineers to work on AI ethics, these companies are failing to prioritize the adoption of ethical safeguards, according to a new report released by Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.
The report, titled “Walking the Walk of AI Ethics in Technology Companies,” draws on the experiences of 25 AI ethics practitioners who reported lacking institutional support and being isolated from other teams within their organizations. Employees expressed frustration with a culture of indifference or hostility, as product managers often prioritize productivity, revenue, and product launch timelines over ethical considerations.
The researchers found that ethical issues are often only considered late in the development process, making it difficult to make adjustments to new apps or software. Additionally, the frequent reorganization of teams disrupts ethical considerations. Employees reported that metrics around engagement or the performance of AI models are highly prioritized, making it challenging to prioritize ethics-related recommendations that may negatively affect these metrics.
The report did not name the companies where the surveyed employees worked, but it highlighted the risks associated with speaking out against the rapid development of AI. Concerns about the speed of AI development have been expressed by governments and academics, with ethical questions arising around the use of private data, racial discrimination, and copyright infringement.
The researchers also noted that ethical considerations are often disrupted by the frequent reorganization of teams within companies. They found that metrics of ethics or fairness are challenging to define, as existing data infrastructures are not tailored to such metrics.
The report’s findings shed light on the challenges faced by AI ethics practitioners within technology companies and highlight the need for greater institutional support and prioritization of ethical safeguards. As the development of AI continues to advance, it is crucial for companies to uphold their promises to prioritize ethical considerations and support the work of AI ethics practitioners.
Technology, Business, Ethics