By trying to put prior restraints on the release of algorithms, we will make the same mistake Milton’s censors were making in trying to restrict books before their publication. We will stifle the myriad possibilities inherent in an evolving new technology and the unintended effects that it will foster among new communities who can extend its reach into novel and previously unimaginable avenues. In many ways it will defeat our very goals for new technology, which is its ability to evolve, change and transform the world for the better.
3 Quarks Daily has another nice essay on ethics and AI by Ashutosh Jogalekar. This one is about The ethics of regulating AI: When too much may be bad. The argument is that we need to careful about regulating algorithms preemptively. As quote above makes clear he makes three related points:
- We need to be careful censoring algorithms before they are tried.
- One reason is that it is very difficult to predict negative or positive outcomes of new technologies. Innovative technologies almost always have unanticipated effects and censoring them would limit our ability to learn about the effects and benefit from them.
- Instead we should manage the effects as they emerge.
I can imagine some responses to this argument:
- Unanticipated effects are exactly what we should be worried about. The reason for censoring preemptively is precisely to control for unanticipated effects. Why not encourage better anticipation of effects.
- Unanticipated effects, especially network effects, often only manifest themselves when the technology is used at scale. By then it can be difficult to roll back the technology. Precisely when there is a problem is when we can’t easily change the way the technology is used.
- One person’s unanticipated effect is another’s business or another’s freedom. There is rarely consensus about the effect of effects.
I also note how Jogalekar talks about the technology as if it had agency. He talks about the technologies ability to evolve. Strictly speaking the technology doesn’t evolve, but our uses do. When it comes to innovation we have to be careful not to ascribe agency to technology as if it was some impersonal force we can resist.