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AI Ethics: Meaning, Importance, Key Principles

AI Ethics: Meaning, Importance, Key Principles

The rise of big data has led companies to prioritize automation and data-driven decision-making. However, there have been unfolding deviations from intended outcomes with the application of artificial intelligence (AI), resulting from poor research design and the use of data from biased sources.

In a bid to address these issues of ethical backdrop, the research and data science communities have proposed guiding rules, endorsed and backed by leading companies in the AI sphere, the breach of which may incur reputational and legal repercussions. With the rapid growth of technology, the emergence of government regulations in areas like AI is both anticipated and expected. The regulations are expected to serve as a protection of human rights and civil liberties.

AI technologies have proven to significantly impact our societies and daily lives. However, they also present several legal and social challenges which makes it essential to explore the ethical, social, and legal implications of AI systems.

AI Ethics Defined

AI ethics is a combination of two concepts, AI and ethics. A basic knowledge of these two concepts provides a better insight or understanding of the mix which is crucial for those who are directly involved with developments in AI and those who make or intend to make use of AI technologies.

AI is a technology that enables a computer to act very similar to how humans think and act. This is mostly done with the application of logic-based techniques, and machine and deep learning to automate repetitive tasks, read and interpret events, as well as complete actions with little or no intervention from humans.

Ethics on the other hand is a branch of philosophy that studies the right and wrong in human actions. It seeks to answer questions about what is good or what is bad in an action or attitude.

AI ethics is a set of principles or rules that guide the attitude and motive behind the design and outcomes of artificial intelligence. People generally have biases which are reflected in their actions and the data they provide. And since AI relies heavily on data, it becomes vital to bear these biases in mind when creating algorithms, as AI has the capacity to both magnify and spread these biases at a very large scale.

Ethical Challenges of AI

The ethical landscape surrounding AI presents a number of challenges that demand careful consideration and proactive measures some of which are discussed as follows:

  • The imperative of explainability. In case AI systems fail, it is important to be able to trace the complex chain of algorithmic processes and data flows to identify the cause. Therefore, organizations that use AI technologies must have the ability to explain the origin and outcome of their data, detail the functionality of their algorithms, and provide objective reasoning behind their actions. Adam Wisniewski, CTO and co-founder of AI Clearing, underscores the need for AI to show a great level of traceability in order to ensure that any resulting harm can be traced back to its root cause.
  • Responsibility. The question of accountability increases as AI-driven decisions possess the potential for damaging effects, ranging from financial losses to threats to health and life. Determining responsibility prompts a collective process that involves legal experts, regulators, and the public. Striking a safe balance is especially challenging in events where an AI system still poses problems despite being potentially safer compared to its human counterpart. An example is the ethical considerations surrounding autonomous driving systems that may still cause harm while reducing fatalities compared to human drivers,
  • Fairness can become a critical concern, especially in datasets that contain personal information. Thus, ensuring that biases related to race, gender, or ethnicity are absent is vital. The ethical use of AI requires a commitment to fair treatment and the eradication of discriminatory practices in data sets.

In addressing these challenges, the benefits of ethical AI practices become bare. Accountability engenders trust, fair treatment promotes inclusion, and a proactive approach to the reduction of risk during the design phase ensures that the positive impact of AI is maximized and potential harm minimized.

AI Code of Ethics: Key Principles

An AI code of ethics is a set of guiding rules that define the principles and values that should be borne in the development and application of artificial intelligence. These codes are most often developed by organizations, such as governments, companies, and universities, and they are used to ensure that AI is developed and used in a responsible and ethical manner.

There are a wide range of topics that are covered by AI codes of ethics, some of which make up the key principles which are discussed below:

  • Fairness and equity: AI systems should be fair and unbiased to any group.
  • Transparency and accountability: AI systems should be plain and accountable. People should be able to understand how the AI systems work and why they make the decisions they do.
  • Privacy and security: AI systems must respect people’s privacy and security by not collecting nor using personal data without prior request and due consent.
  • Safety and reliability: AI systems mus be safe and trusted not to cause harm to lives or properties.

Ethical AI Organizations

Ethical AI organizations are groups that foster the responsible and ethical development and use of artificial intelligence. These can be made up of individuals, companies, universities, and others.

Although there are many different ethical AI organizations, they all share a common objective which is to ensure that AI is used in a way that serves the good interests of humanity and does not cause harm. These organizations attempt to achieve this objective by developing ethical guidelines for the development and use of AI, conducting research on AI ethics, and pushing for policies that promote the ethical use of AI.

Below is a brief overview of some  the most notable ethical AI organizations:

  • Partnership on AI (PAI). The PAI is a global non-profit partnership consisting of over 100 companies, universities, and non-profit organizations that are committed to developing and promoting ethical AI. The PAI has developed some ethical principles for the development and use of AI, which have been adopted by quite a number of companies.
  • IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. This is a project of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) that is aimed at developing ethical standards for developing and using autonomous systems(that is, AI systems that can operate without human intervention). The IEEE Global Initiative has developed a set of ethical standards for the development and use of autonomous systems, and these are being used by companies, governments, and other organizations.
  • Future of Life Institute. The Future of Life Institute is a non-profit organization that is committed to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits humans generally. The Institute has funded research on AI safety and security, and it has also advocated for the development of international treaties to prevent the harmful use of AI.
  • Center for Humane Technology. The Center for Humane Technology is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to undoing the negative impacts of social media and technology. The Center for Humane Technology works to promote ethical design principles for technology, and it also advocates for policies that protect people from the harmful effects of technology.
  • Algorithmic Justice League. The Algorithmic Justice League is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting racial and gender justice in the tech industry. The Algorithmic Justice League works to expose and address bias in technology, and it also advocates for policies that protect marginalized communities from the harmful effects of technology.

These organizations influence the development and use of AI technologies in a number of ways. Also, they conduct research on AI ethics, which helps with the identification and resolution of ethical challenges associated with the development and use of AI.

By developing ethical guidelines, conducting research, and advocating for policies, ethical AI organizations play an important role in influencing the development and use of AI technologies.


While AI provides promising prospects and benefits for Humans, there are underlying consequences from its application and development that might have a far reaching implication if the activities are not done under some recognized and industry-specific guidelines. This forms the essence of the concept of AI ethics which creates a theoretical awareness, as well as advocates the development and use of AI in a responsible manner that benefits humans.

AI Ethics: Meaning, Importance, Key Principles

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