The Future Labs Draw Leaders in AI to Debate the Technology’s Ethical Impacts

John Havens giving a talk

John C. Havens (left) addresses the crowd at a panel discussion about the ethical impacts of AI, along with Steve Kuyan and Julie Samuels

“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a still a largely unknown technology, yet its impact is already being made across all industries,” said Steve Kuyan, managing director of the Data and Digital Future Labs at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. “Better understanding AI will lead to adequate rules, regulations, and governance to ensure there is aggregate progress while maintaining responsibility, rights, and liberties in an age of automation.”

Kuyan is well situated to comment on the possibilities AI poses for the world; the Future Labs are home to an innovative accelerator program known as the AI NexusLab, which provides a select group of AI-focused startups with intensive mentorship, an investment from partner investors ff Venture Capital, in-house support services, legal benefits, a Tandon student intern, access to NYU faculty, data sets, and more.

The companies taking part in the NexusLab and the Data Future Lab — along with anyone active in the AI world — must be cognizant of the ethical challenges that arise in the field, and on July 26, with the sponsorship of Verizon, the Future Labs mounted a panel titled “Focus | AI: The Ethical Impact of AI.” Moderated by Kuyan, the well-attended event featured Julie Samuels, the executive director of Tech:NYC, an organization of more than 500 member companies in New York’s fast-growing, entrepreneurial tech industry; and John C. Havens, the executive director of the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems, which seeks to create guidelines for ethically aligned AI and recommendations for standards designed to help technologists use ethical methodologies that concurrently increase innovation and human well-being. 

The three engaged in a lively discussion that touched upon such questions as what can be done about job losses that inevitably accompany the use of autonomous systems, how can developers avoid the biases that are sometimes baked into artificially intelligent products, which items should be included in a consumer “Bill of Rights” to ensure that personal data is not exploited, how best to prepare students to enter the AI workforce, and more.

“There’s a belief that AI is far off in the future and that these are issues that are irrelevant right now,” Kuyan said. “But what they don’t realize is that AI is already all around us. It’s been introduced incrementally, and many of us interact with it every day. Think of how regularly we use intelligent search engines like Google or voice assistants like Siri, for example. It’s very important that these systems be designed and deployed with ethics in mind and with a lens into both their immediate impact and impact on the future of the technology.”

The Ramifications

John C. Havens, Executive Director of the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems

“In terms of our privacy and the tracking of our data, including important Personally Identifiable Information (PII), we’re facing a lack of symmetry. Algorithms track our behavior, and while that’s useful in personalizing our online experiences, on the other hand, we as individuals don’t have the chance to provide clarity or correction. That means AI can be based on biased or erroneous information.”

Julie Samuels, Executive Director of Tech:NYC

“We really need to be thinking about our social safety net, because in the future, jobs are going to look very different than they looked for past generations or for us. We need to work hard on issues like portable benefits, which provide assurance that you’ll get paid sick time and other needed assistance even though you might not have conventional nine-to-five employment.”  


Future Labs AI Summit

The Future Labs will hold its AI Summit at NYU’s Skirball Center in October. Registration will open later this month.

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