Artificial intelligence is omnipresent: it filters posts in social media or helps analyze X-ray images. The Ethics Council has given some thought to the responsible use of AI.
“Is this dark patch of skin a benign mole or black skin cancer?” – If, when answering this question, you have a machine with artificial intelligence compete against doctors of flesh and blood, statistically speaking, the AI machine is now more often correct.
In addition, the decisions of the AI do not depend on human mood swings, the machines only need seconds for the analysis and they do not get tired even after many hours of use.
But even if the advantages of using AI are obvious, the German Ethics Council urgently warns against giving the machine too much responsibility. “AI must not replace humans,” said the Chair of the Ethics Council, Alena Buyx.
Relationship between man and machine
AI in medicine is one of four areas that the Ethics Council has analyzed for the relationship between humans and machines. The use of AI in schools, in communication and opinion-forming, and in public administration was also examined. In October 2020, the then President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), asked the committee to draw up an opinion on the relationship between “man and machine”. At the presentation of the 287-page study in Berlin on Monday, Buyx summarized the result: “The use of AI must expand human development and must not reduce it,” says the medical ethicist.
For the medical sector, the report lists a number of reasons why the use of AI could make sense: With the help of AI, supply bottlenecks due to staff shortages could be alleviated and more precise diagnoses could be made. In medical care, for example, AI instruments are also being developed for diagnostics and therapy, for example for breast and prostate cancer.
At the same time, however, the Ethics Council sees dangers that should not be ignored: A loss of medical competence must be avoided when developing and using AI products. The privacy of patients must be reconciled with the intensive use of data in medical research. A complete replacement of doctors by an AI system endangers the well-being of patients and cannot be justified by the lack of staff.
Discussion about use in school
In the area of education, the members of the Ethics Council discussed quite controversially whether the use of AI in schools should be banned in general or not. Specifically, the question was whether what is happening in the classroom could be videotaped in order to use AI to analyze how the learning process works for individual students.
While parts of the Ethics Council rejected this form of “classroom analytics” in principle, others saw opportunities because teachers could receive continuous feedback and teaching results could be significantly improved. As a compromise, the position was agreed that data collection and provision should serve the learning process. “It must not be misused to monitor and stigmatize learners,” said Julian Nida-Rümelin, deputy chairman of the German Ethics Council.
The Ethics Council is also primarily critical of the role of AI in public communication and opinion-forming. Nida-Rümelin complained that polarization and the brutalization of discourse had increased on social media. One can often only stand out from the “white noise” of the networks with particularly extreme views.
Facebook and Twitter
The former Minister of State for Culture also blamed the commercial interest of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in keeping users as long as possible. This is achieved with personalized offers that are tailored to the recipient with the help of AI.
However, AI is also used to moderate problematic or even criminal content. This creates a tension between freedom of expression and civil culture of communication, which is resolved in the hands of private digital companies according to their own rules, said Nida-Rümelin.
At this point, the Ethics Council brings up an alternative under public law so that this issue is not left to private commercial groups alone. “We don’t mean the public broadcasters,” said Nida-Rümelin. Public-law foundation models without major state influence are conceivable.
In public administration, AI is being used more and more frequently to support decisions and ensure greater efficiency, reported Judith Simon, Professor of Ethics in Information Technology at the University of Hamburg. However, it has not been proven that its use necessarily leads to better decisions. The Ethics Council works to ensure that citizens are protected from discrimination. Machine recommendations should not be followed blindly. Furthermore, individual case considerations as well as the rights of inspection and objection of those affected would have to be guaranteed.
This also applies to the use of AI to improve internal security. “If software predicts that a person will be 99 percent delinquent, we can never know whether the person in front of us isn’t exactly the 1 percent.”
Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP) explained that the Ethics Council illustrates “the diverse potential and opportunities” associated with the use of artificial intelligence in central social application areas. “We absolutely have to use this.” At the same time, the report provides orientation as to how possible risks such as discrimination can be countered when using AI.
The AI association was more critical of the report: it did not go into enough detail about the positive effects of AI, explained association manager Daniel Abbou. The possibilities that AI will have in the economic context, especially in relation to the shortage of skilled workers, are ignored.