What is the ethical issue?

The rapid development and evolution of AI technologies, while unleashing opportunities for business and communities across the world, have prompted a number of important ethical questions.

Governments, businesses and the public alike are demanding more accountability in the way AI technologies are devloped and used, trying to find a solution to the legal and ethical issues that will arise from growing integration of AI in society.

For businesses in particular, AI raises questions about the level of control retained over the machines’ decision-making processes, and how to ensure that AI systems always act in a way that is aligned to the organisation’s core values. Working with regulators and policy makers, businesses have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to agree on a framework of ethics in which AI can innovate safely.

The growth in AI increases the likelihood of ethical lapses in an organisation, as machines cannot be relied on to make decisions aligned with the core values of the company. The growth in AI also creates a greater technology risk, as it can be harder to identify tampering and cyber-attacks, thus compromising the privacy of the organisation.

Some business leaders have indicated that responsible organisations need to redefine how they interact with technology to be able to be seen as trustworthy in the age of AI. The automation of jobs on a large scale poses a workforce risk, as it can lead to a deskilled labour force and public backlash if human labour is replaced with AI. In light of this, businesses need to be cautious, and be able to justify any decision related to the introduction of AI.

 

IBE Guidance

A summary of good practice
  • Openness and transparency are particularly important in the use of AI. Opening sourcing material when appropriate helps the development community better understand how AI works, thus placing them in a stronger position to explain it more accurately to the public and the media. Better information within the general public improves trust and prevents unjustified fears, which will be hard to avoid as AI continues to grow, but organisations would do well to make it as easy as possible to address.
  • To reduce the technological risks associated with AI. This will create a far safer environment for businesses to operate in, as the chances of privacy or data breaches can be lowered. It is essential that companies know the impact and side effects that new technologies might have on their business and stakeholders.
  • To minimise the risk of ethical lapses due to improper use of AI technologies, there are some measures that organisations can adopt. These include, but are not limited to, designing new and more detailed decision-making tools to ensure AI systems ‘do the right thing’, engaging with third parties when designing AI algorithms to ensure that they are ethical, and introducing ‘ethics tests’ for AI to teach them what to do when faced with ethical dilemmas.

 

Further resources

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2019

This briefing provides an overview of the ethical concerns and lapses that were recorded by the IBE in its monitoring of media coverage in 2019. It gives an overview of which sectors and issues related to business ethics were most covered in the news. For 2019, we have recorded a total of 361 different stories involving lapses of companies with a UK presence.

29 January 2020

Blog

Real Intelligence about AI

It’s a familiar human experience that rapid advances in technology outrun our ability to manage them well. New ethical risks take time to recognise, think through and manage, to ensure that these advances contribute consistently to flourishing lives and a better society. We can find ourselves playing moral catch-up. What do right and wrong mean, in an increasingly digital world? asks Professor Chris Cowton.

08 October 2019

Blog

An ethical approach moves AI from threat to opportunity

One of the biggest challenges facing business at present is how to exploit the opportunities afforded by Artificial Intelligence. There is a big temptation to spend a lot of time worrying about the risks – of cyber-attack or about the reputational damage that can follow if the algorithms make decisions which end up damaging the business.

11 June 2019

Publication type: Board briefing

Corporate Ethics in a Digital Age

This Board Briefing suggests questions for those in the boardroom to ask to help address the ethical challenges of AI in their businesses. It uses case studies to highlight the real-world dilemmas which boards are facing.

04 June 2019

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

The Ethical Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media Use

Social media presents organisations with both ethical challenges and opportunities. As it blurs the boundaries between our personal lives and work, it can be a difficult balance for companies to protect their reputations, uphold their responsibilities to stakeholders, and empower employees to use social media ethically and effectively.

02 May 2019

Blog

What were the ''hot'' ethical issues of 2018?

Now here is a surprise! The UK public’s trust in business has jumped and is at its highest level since 2003.

05 February 2019

Publication type: Other

A Year In Review: Ethical Concerns and Lapses 2018

Read the IBE's annual analysis of business ethics news stories from the last year - which were the sectors and issues most in the news in 2018?

30 January 2019

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Beyond Law: Ethical culture and GDPR

What are the wider ethical implications of GDPR? How can an organisation’s values be embedded and monitored so that the new regulation becomes a measure of those, rather than simply a set of compliance rules that must be ticked off?

30 May 2018

Publication type: Research report

Artificial Intelligence Framework

Explore the IBE framework of fundamental values and principles for the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in business - using the acronym A.R.T.I.F.I.C.I.A.L.

11 January 2018

Publication type: Research report

Business Ethics and Artificial Intelligence

Examine the ethical challenges for business in developing artificial technologies

11 January 2018

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics and Big Data

This briefing seeks to bring some clarity to the ethical issues related to Big Data, defining why they are relevant to companies and where the main ethical risks might lie. It also provides a set of questions that can help ethics practitioners liaise with their colleagues and make sure that their organisation lives up to its values when dealing with Big Data.

07 June 2016

Video

What ethical issues will be more important in the future?

03 January 2016

Publication type: Report

Ethics in the Provision and Use of IT for Business

This report draws attention to the issues, dilemmas and challenges that are common when IT is used to achieve business initiatives. It provides guidance for all business managers on planning, implementing and evaluating the provision and use of IT so that ethical challenges are anticipated, and the organisation's ethical values and commitments are not compromised.

07 January 2010