Ethical Issues in Near-Future Socially Supportive Smart Assistants for Older Adults

IEEE Transactions on Technology and Society (forthcoming)
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Abstract:This paper considers novel ethical issues pertaining to near-future artificial intelligence (AI) systems that seek to support, maintain, or enhance the capabilities of older adults as they age and experience cognitive decline. In particular, we focus on smart assistants (SAs) that would seek to provide proactive assistance and mediate social interactions between users and other members of their social or support networks. Such systems would potentially have significant utility for users and their caregivers if they could reduce the cognitive load for tasks that help older adults maintain their autonomy and independence. However, proactively supporting even simple tasks, such as providing the user with a summary of a meeting or a conversation, would require a future SA to engage with ethical aspects of human interactions which computational systems currently have difficulty identifying, tracking, and navigating. If SAs fail to perceive ethically relevant aspects of social interactions, the resulting deficit in moral discernment would threaten important aspects of user autonomy and well-being. After describing the dynamic that generates these ethical challenges, we note how simple strategies for prompting user oversight of such systems might also undermine their utility. We conclude by considering how near-future SAs could exacerbate current worries about privacy, commodification of users, trust calibration and injustice.



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Alex John London
Carnegie Mellon University

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