An AI ethics ‘David and Goliath’: value conflicts between large tech companies and their employees

AI and Society:1-16 (forthcoming)
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Artificial intelligence ethics requires a united approach from policymakers, AI companies, and individuals, in the development, deployment, and use of these technologies. However, sometimes discussions can become fragmented because of the different levels of governance or because of different values, stakeholders, and actors involved. Recently, these conflicts became very visible, with such examples as the dismissal of AI ethics researcher Dr. Timnit Gebru from Google and the resignation of whistle-blower Frances Haugen from Facebook. Underpinning each debacle was a conflict between the organisation’s economic and business interests and the morals of their employees. This paper will examine tensions between the ethics of AI organisations and the values of their employees, by providing an exploration of the AI ethics literature in this area, and a qualitative analysis of three workshops with AI developers and practitioners. Common ethical and social tensions will be discussed, along with proposals on how to avoid or reduce these conflicts in practice. Altogether, we suggest the following steps to help reduce ethical issues within AI organisations: improved and diverse ethics education and training within businesses; internal and external ethics auditing; the establishment of AI ethics ombudsmen, AI ethics review committees and an AI ethics watchdog; as well as access to trustworthy AI ethics whistle-blower organisations.



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Mark Ryan
Wageningen University and Research

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