Article 27.5.2024

AI in developing the ethics of digitalisation – master, servant or something else?

AI helping people

The Gofore Impact Foundation chose its first beneficiaries on April 30th. The first one we introduce is a project by Sami Vihavainen and Anna Seppänen, set to find out how artificial intelligence could support ethical assessment in digital ventures.

When it had become clear that AI has sneaked into our everyday life, last year the CEO of CoHumans, ethicist Anna Seppänen and Gofore’s Principal Designer Sami Vihavainen began to envision a collaboration that would see if AI could support the ethics of digitalisation that is growing more and more important. CoHumans is a consultancy developing sustainable work communities and e.g. promoting ethics expertise and has also coached Gofore in ensuring its ethical capability.

AI has created challenges to digital ethics in itself, but Vihavainen and Seppänen want to now find out what an ideal collaboration between humans and machine could be in building ethical digitalisation. Last year, the project was awarded some of the financing it needed from the Kaute foundation, and this spring the Gofore Impact Foundation admitted it a 15,000-euro grant. Thanks to that, two additional Goforean designers, Suvi Leander and Michelle Sahal Estimé, can also partake in the project.

Can AI be trusted?

The group will first take a theory-based look into previous studies on AI’s impact on human decision making; what kind of conscious and unconscious effect it can have and how people feel when they work with AI.  

“AI is developed with past data; things that have taken place before. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are ethically correct. Can AI be trusted and if so, how much, is one of our fundamental questions”, Vihavainen explains.  

Vihavainen has a background in the interaction between humans and tech, and he has done his dissertation on the user experience of AI functionalities, whereas Seppänen knows ethics theories and literature, and has specialised in digital ethics, such as impacts of AI, in her daily work.

“One of our big themes is that the developers’ own ethical capability is important in ensuring ethics of digitalisation. Mere ethical guidelines or regulation are not enough anymore, we need solution developers’ ethical agency. AI would possibly be just an assisting tool”, Seppänen says.

Bridge building needed between ethics and digital

The everyday life of developers is often complicated and decisions that concern solutions are context-bound, and the need for ethical assessment is not necessarily even recognised.

“The bridge between development and ethics must be built regardless of whether AI is used or not. Ethical assessment is often approached through listing things to avoid and that are forbidden. In ethics and the help of AI, there are, however, also positive opportunities in what kind of a world and futures they help build”, the duo continues.  

As the project moves on, the group intends to interview people in various roles of digital development and based on that, create simulations of how AI could support ethical assessment. The end result of this venture that last until year-end is possibly some kind of a tool such as a common-good workshop concept, the kind that the project duo says there aren’t really yet available.

One of the conclusions of the project could also be that AI cannot be used in ethical assessment, Vihavainen and Seppänen point out. Whatever the project creates or finds out, the method will be freely available to all organisations for enhancing their ethical capability.

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Kaute foundation


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