Iyad Rahwan: I think that the devel­op­ment of AI pos­es imme­di­ate chal­lenges and long-term chal­lenges. Some of the long-term chal­lenges are very hypothetical—we don’t real­ly know if they will ever mate­ri­al­ize in this way. But in the short term I think AI pos­es some reg­u­la­to­ry chal­lenges for soci­ety. They pose eth­i­cal chal­lenges. And there are also chal­lenges when it comes to the mar­ket­place, in par­tic­u­lar the labor market.

So I like to think about the exam­ple of dri­ver­less cars, not because I’m only inter­est­ed in that prob­lem but I think it exem­pli­fies many of the ques­tions that we will face in many appli­ca­tions of AI in the future. We recent­ly ran very large sur­veys of peo­ple’s pref­er­ences over what a self-driving car should do if faced with a dif­fi­cult eth­i­cal ques­tion. And the ques­tion is what val­ues, what are the prin­ci­ples that we want to embed in those cars.

And what we found, inter­est­ing­ly, is that there is a broad cul­tur­al vari­a­tion in the val­ues that peo­ple con­sid­er impor­tant. And so in some cul­tures peo­ple seem to think the car has a big­ger duty towards its own­er, where­as in oth­er cul­tures peo­ple seem to think that the car has a duty to soci­ety, to min­i­miz­ing harm in total. 

We’re still ana­lyz­ing the data and we don’t have con­clu­sive find­ings yet, but I think it’s very inter­est­ing that as soon as we began prob­ing into these sorts of ques­tions we very quick­ly encoun­tered an impor­tant sort of anthro­po­log­i­cal dimen­sion here, a cross-cultural dimension.

Traditionally, the way we think about these prob­lems is obvi­ous­ly shaped by our own train­ing and our own way of look­ing at the world. So an engi­neer, when faced with an eth­i­cal chal­lenge of what should the car do, or how do you make sure the car does­n’t mis­be­have, they see it as an engi­neer­ing prob­lem. But I think that can only take you so far.

On the oth­er hand, you have peo­ple from the human­i­ties who are aware of the his­to­ry of law and reg­u­la­tion, and who have a very good eye for iden­ti­fy­ing poten­tial mis­use and abuse in sys­tems. And they think about reg­u­la­to­ry mea­sures to mit­i­gate sys­tems basi­cal­ly going out of control.

And the prob­lem to me has been that these two groups have not been talk­ing to each oth­er. Engineers typ­i­cal­ly would ignore these issues because they think that an engi­neer­ing solu­tion will fix the prob­lem. On the oth­er hand, peo­ple com­ing from the human­i­ties typ­i­cal­ly don’t have the means to imple­ment those ideas in an oper­a­tional way. And this is why I think that it’s impor­tant to bridge this gap by bring­ing both of both of those per­spec­tives together.