Who benefits from the opportunities of AI?

Be it smart homes, music and video streaming, navigation, or facial recognition, there are so many ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) impacts on everyday life. But how transparent are AI systems, and what controls are there over the companies that manufacture them? This is what Professor Dr Joanna Bryson from the Hertie School in Berlin is addressing in her lecture. The expert on ethics and technology will provide insights into her research on this topic next Thursday 20 April, from 4 p.m., in a hybrid lecture via Zoom and in person in the CITEC building at Bielefeld University (Room 1.204). The lecture is part of the series ‘Co-Constructing Intelligence’, an event organized by Bielefeld University, the University of Bremen, and the Paderborn University. Attendance of the lecture to be held in English is free of charge. No registration is required.

‘Artificial intelligence provides us with a bundle of techniques that foster the ability to cope successfully with the new information spaces that have emerged. These spaces have been created through significant improvements in digital procedures and infrastructures,’ says Joanna Bryson. ‘But who benefits from the new opportunities to analyse the data in digital information spaces? And at what price?’

Professor Dr Joanna Bryson
In her lecture, the AI researcher and psychologist Professor Dr Joanna Bryson from the Hertie School also talks about how artificial intelligence can be a threat to people’s ability to act. Photo: Hertie School

In her lecture, Bryson presents her latest research on the actual transparency and accountability of AI systems. She also talks about her research into the governance of the companies and broader organizations that manufacture them. Moreover, her lecture addresses the cross-national dynamics ‘that may obscure or even threaten our ability to act.’ In addition, she discusses how to implement the commitments to AI transparency and human-centredness as agreed globally in the UNESCO Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. Bryson takes a clear stance with regard to the application of ethics to AI. She considers that ethics and responsibility are only meaningful when they concern relationships between equals. AI systems, however, are made by humans, and thus, according to Bryson, as artefacts, they are not equal to humans.

‘Bryson is one of the internationally influential experts on digital ethics,’ says Professor Philipp Cimiano, head of the Semantic Databases Group at Bielefeld University. ‘Her research makes it clear that AI systems must make how they reach decisions comprehensible to users. Only then can users find what one could call a common wavelength with them. If machines are not transparent, there is a danger that the companies manufacturing them will manipulate users either intentionally or unintentionally. This can lead, for example, to consumers being encouraged to make impulsive purchases.

Impact of technology on human cooperation

Joanna Bryson is professor of Ethics and Technology at the private Hertie School in Berlin. Her research interests include the governance of artificial intelligence as well as information and communication technology. Another focus is on the impact of technology on human cooperation. In 1998, she published her book ‘Just Another Artifact’ on artificial intelligence and ethics. In 2010, she co-authored the ‘UK Principles of Robotics’, the first national ethics guidance on AI in the UK. Bryson holds degrees in psychology and artificial intelligence from the University of Chicago, the University of Edinburgh, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she completed her PhD. She was a member of the computer science faculty at the University of Bath in the UK from 2002 to 2019. She has worked with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations, and the Red Cross on guidelines for artificial intelligence. In July 2020, Bryson became one of nine experts nominated by Germany for the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) initiative.

Questions of digital ethics

The lecture is entitled ‘Principle Agents of AI—With Whom Do We CoCreate?’ It is part of the series ‘Co-Constructing Intelligence’. The term co-construction refers to the fact that interpreting the environment and performing actions take place in collaboration. This happens naturally when, for example, children perform household tasks with the support and guidance of their parents. With service robots and other technical systems, however, such natural interaction is not yet possible.

Lecture series emerged from research initiative

Bielefeld University, the University of Bremen, and Paderborn University are cooperating on the lecture series. Philipp Cimiano is organizing the new lecture series with several academics including Bielefeld computer scientist Professor Dr-Ing. Britta Wrede, Bremen computer scientist Professor Dr Michael Beetz, and Paderborn linguist Professor Dr Katharina Rohlfing. The lecture series is an event organized by the joint research initiative of the three universities. The collaboration applies the principle of co-construction to adapt the understanding and abilities of robots to those of humans. The researchers are thus working on developing a basis for flexible and meaningful interaction between robots and humans in everyday life.