By Nell Watson, Researcher in AI Ethics and Curator of EmTech Europe
The technology sector is home to the world’s largest, most valuable, and ultimately most powerful companies. It has transformed our world and our workplaces over the past two decades, not least through advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, now extending into Crypto and the Internet of Things.
Whilst the increasing pace of technological change offers the promise of expanded capabilities and growth, it is vital that we proceed with an awareness of the ethical and legal risks associated with wildly innovative and disruptive technologies.
Never has the power of the tech industry been more inescapable than during the Covid-19 pandemic. Mutating across the world at unprecedented speed, the virus triggered huge demand for digital health solutions to track infections, facilitate vaccine rollouts, and bring targeted response applications to our devices. It also created the necessity for various laggards and digital immigrants to embrace socially distanced solutions which previously offered limited appeal.
Artificial Intelligence is advancing at a pace that bewilders even those within the industry, with colossal models of trillions of parameters now capable of solving high school pop quizzes, essay writing contests, and even displaying humour. A ‘Sputnik Moment’ will occur soon, once the digital assistants we have grown accustomed to asking simple questions are suddenly able to have meaningful and entertaining conversations with us. We will become increasingly dependent on these technologies as they grow ever more entwined with our personal and professional lives.
Many businesses also use AI to problem-solve and innovate, streamlining tedious processes, boosting productivity, and making sense of chaotic situations. These capabilities are a transformational force across all industries, not to mention in the background of our homes with widespread adoption of Alexa speakers, Nest thermostats and Hue lightbulbs.
But as it becomes increasingly engrained in our lives, it is vital we ensure the principles of human rights, equality and sustainability are built in. Privacy and security are matters of increasing public concern – perhaps even quiet desperation – fuelled by fears that tracking technologies such as those introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19 and facilitate travel have the potential for multiple uses. Meanwhile, the value to public health of noble lies and censorship, with monopolies on questionable truths, appears to be an own goal. It may take generations to restore the faith in our formerly unimpeachable global health institutions.
Major questions around ethics and equity will be addressed when those at the forefront of global innovation come together in Northern Ireland next month.
Whilst exploring many of the most promising emerging technologies across Health, Sustainability, and Intelligence, EmTech Europe will examine how these interact with ethics and human rights when it broadcasts live from Belfast.
A prestigious win for Northern Ireland’s tech landscape, the EmTech Europe event, in association with MIT, will unite leaders in academia, business, and government to share groundbreaking research and solutions to many of society’s grand challenges.
Reflecting upon the events of our time and their ramifications, the conference offers all of us a chance to make sense of the innovations and trends at play as we work with the technology sector to build towards a healthier, brighter, and more sustainable future.