Norbert Wiener, one of cybernetics pioneers, envisioned AI ethics problems way ahead of us.
Ethics has definitely become a trend in the field of Artificial Intelligence. It seems clear that AI faces a lot of challenges if we want it to have a positive impact for our society. Nevertheless, it is not the first time that researchers warn us about the risks of this kind of technology. Norbert Wiener, cybernetics pioneer, wrote this somehow prophetic piece back in 1964:
It is relatively easy to promote good and to fight evil and good and evil are arranged against each other in two clear lines, and when those on the other side are our unquestioned enemies and those on our side our trusted allies. What, however, if we must ask, each time and in every situation, where is the friend and where is the enemy? What, moreover, when we have to put the decision in the hands of an inexorable magic or an inexorable machine of which we must ask the right questions in advance, without fully understanding the operations of the process by which they will be answered?
It is mesmerizing to think that this was written more than 50 years ago and that somehow it reflects so well some of the main challenges we are facing for ensuring a truly ethical future for AI. Let’s break down Wiener’s written piece.