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Smart machines require ethical programming: Gartner

Zafirah Salim | March 19, 2015
Gartner has identified five levels of programming and system development, based on their ethical impact.

CIOs must start considering developing ethical programming for smart machines, said Gartner in a media statement today.

Smart machines have a huge potential, and they help to ensure successful outcomes for the businesses that rely on them. But can we trust these machines? And how well can we even maintain that trust?

According to Gartner, ethical values that people recognise and are comfortable with are central to establishing this trust.

"Clearly, people must trust smart machines if they are to accept and use them. The ability to earn trust must be part of any plan to implement artificial intelligence (AI) or smart machines, and will be an important selling point when marketing this technology," said Frank Buytendijk, research vice president and analyst at Gartner.

"CIOs must be able to monitor smart machine technology for unintended consequences of public use and respond immediately, embracing unforeseen positive outcomes and countering undesirable ones," he added.

To ensure that smart machines behave ethically and deserve our trust in the future, CIOs must prepare for ethical discussion and programming. Gartner has identified five levels of programming and system development, based on their ethical impact:

Level 0: Non-Ethical Programming

On this level, there are no explicit ethical considerations for the behavior of technology. The technology manufacturer believes that the technology must only provide the promised functions safely and reliably, and assumes very limited ethical responsibility.

One example is "vaporware", a technology that is announced to the public but never delivered - this reduces customer trust in a manufacturer. The first release of any software is seldom complete, which means customers may have limited expectations of "version 1.0" software.

Gartner recommends that technology manufacturers communicate openly on what they will deliver and any changing circumstances, altering what can be delivered and what cannot. This should include service-level agreements (SLAs) that specify what is delivered and how.

Level 1: Ethical Oversight

This level has no ethical programming, but the deployment and use of technology may have ethical consequences. Smart machines may be used, but it's essentially up to users what they do with the results. This means that the main ethical responsibility lies in the hands of those who use the smart machines.

Gartner recommends that organisations establish governance practices that ensure no laws are broken, as a bare minimum. They should also seek to make ethics a part of governance by identifying and discussing dilemmas posed by using new technologies.

Level 2: Ethical Programming

In this level, the user perspective changes considerably. Unlike Levels 0 and 1 where the user is generally a business professional performing a job, users in Level 2 are often customers, citizens or consumers.


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