In search of an ethical Artificial Intelligence that restores our faith in ourselves

Mauro Berchi

At the end of last month, a set of principles and advice on ethics in the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was known, adopted for the first time jointly and unanimously by the 193 member states of the General Council of the UNESCO.

Beyond the uniqueness of its universal character, it is about Unesco launched a guide to improve the relationship between humans and robots and combines ethical issues to a warning voice that has been heard for a long time. There are already several international political organizations that have been warning about the need to provide an ethical component to what is undoubtedly the most notable advance in applied science of our time.

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Some background to give ethical components to AI

In fact, in November but from ’19 the European Union (EU) had published its Ethical Guidelines for a reliable artificial intelligence whose proposal revolves around the collateral effects, or unforeseen risks, that the implementation of disruptive technologies like this can generate.

Likewise, in April of this year we learned about the European Commission regulation regarding the use of algorithms able to learn and make decisions. This rule was nourished, in turn, by the AI White Paper published in February, and the Guidelines above.

Summing up, it is clear that AI is a general-purpose technology that, in the terms of AI itself UNESCO “It is omnipresent, and it makes possible many of our daily routines (…)” but like so many other technological leaps we have attended, especially in the last hundred years, it offers enormous benefits while posing, at the same time, great challenges and new dangers: “We are witnessing an increase in gender and ethnic prejudices, significant threats to privacy, dignity and capacity for action, the dangers of mass surveillance and the increasing use of unreliable AI technologies (…) ”.

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From the facts recorded, it is notable that there appears to be a global consensus that:

  • The technologies of this Fourth Industrial Revolution are so powerful that if the applied science of this century does not incorporate ethical criteria in its advances, Humanity runs certain dangers with a gloomy prognosis.
  • Recent disastrous experiences about the power of the scientific progress -also for example, the well-known example of nuclear energy and its other side, the atomic bomb- make it necessary not to repeat brutal mistakes.

AI, ethics and environment

But there is more. Ethics also stomps and asserts itself on the issues environmental. In this sense, the recent World Summit on Climate Change held in Glasgow (COP 26) left as a balance the concern that the deadline set in the Paris Agreement for the reduction of polluting emissions is not enough.

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The environmental damage seems so severe and threatening for the next generations, that it seeks to accelerate the energy transition and the powers make drastic decisions, the effects of which determine the economic course of, for example, Argentina. Let’s see.

At COP 26, the EU ratified a first list of 6 goods that must have a certificate of carbon neutral or negative so that they can cross their border. Read: Europe will only buy these goods from countries that are capable of certifying traceability of production in which the emission of carbon has been lower than the capture or absorption of this. To this end, a border authority in charge of verifying that only certified merchandise enters Europe will be gradually implemented between 2023 and 2026.

Specifically, the European Commission submitted to Parliament for consideration the proposal that coffee, soybeans, beef, palm oil, wood and cocoa no longer be bought from countries that do not reduce their carbon emissions or, what is similar, whose production is a consequence of deforestation.

Quick reflexes, Uruguay It hit a point, and announced that in the second half of this month it will export its first shipment of 100% carbon neutral meat from South America.

The situation in Argentina

But in our pampas, and given the complex political and economic context we are going through, members of the official delegation that appeared in Scotland affirm that today, less than ever, the Argentine ruling class is interested and / or prepared to face problems that in the understanding of cabotage are “from the future”. Some movements in the cabinet led by Juan Cabandié confirm these rumors.

The eternal debate between what is urgent and what is important.

However, sometimes the well-known counterpoint between those who run to put out fires and those who look up to see the iceberg in time can be solved by knotting solutions.

As stated, AI is applicable to all markets and spheres of life. In the field, for example, many advances are made using weed detection and smart fumigation techniques.

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“Deep Agro is an image detection system (…) With cameras mounted on the mosquito -that is, the sprinkler- the program identifies the weed, which is what the producer has to kill; and, once it detects that herb, it gives the order to open the tap that irrigates with agrochemicals. Thus, you go from spraying an entire batch, to saving up to 70% of the product, and polluting the soil much less ”, explains Juan Manuel Baruffaldi, a twenty-something creator of a solution that combines export capacity, AI and environmental awareness.

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In the same way, the environmental engineer Hugo Faerman Drago explains that it is possible to use AI to make efficient the use of electric power and take care of the environment, for example, when algorithms are applied that calculate the water that enters the sewage drains of large urban centers and, on that basis, the force made by the sewage pumps is adjusted. The same happens with the luminaire in public spaces; the list is endless.

But to promote this kind of solutions, it is imperative that the Argentine political leadership understand that the application of software with a certain level of automation (what we call AI without going into technical details) is no longer an issue that interests rich countries, but rather that can give a twist to the problems that we suffer today in these latitudes, as well as those that will have to face future generations.

At this point, there is no example more graphic than green bonds.

Innovation, financing and AI

The Rioja It was the first Argentine province to issue a green bond, in 2017. It placed debt for 200 million dollars (and refinanced this year with the agreement of all creditors) in exchange for building a Eolico Park. In other words, the Union of Swiss Banks loaned money to the Cuyo province because its authorities promised that they would use it responsibly, to generate clean, non-polluting energy.

Argentina has great natural qualities to generate this kind of energy, as well as to produce hydrogen and lithium, the great clean fuels of this time.

The exploitation of these resources is not achieved without applying science of the highest level, which is the result of research which is leveraged, in turn, on quality education. But in addition, a new component appears again: the ethic.

Something similar occurs with the placement of carbon credits. One entity (Misiones has shown initiative in this) achieves that its ability to absorb Greenhouse Gases (GHG) is certified and is in a position to sell bonds that enable the buyer to issue above what is agreed in the Kyoto Protocol.

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But it turns out that in order to certify the GHG absorption capacity, as well as to issue green bonds, it is necessary to incorporate, to the intention to borrow, a purpose in tune with the agreed values, admitting that the creditors or clients control the use of money that is obtained.

And that ethical face of this new capitalism is inextricably linked to the development of more and better scientific knowledge. What another forceful example: the methane gas generated by Argentine intensive livestock is highly polluting and there are no serious studies that allow us to affirm that the humid pampas (especially planted with monocultures) balances this damage.

In other words, we could soon hope that the EU will not buy Argentine meat if it does not carry the certificate of neutral carbon, as obtained by Uruguay.

How to make our livestock sustainable

Again, science is the best tool we have, and AI is the best we have come to; but they only make sense if the ethical gaze is incorporated that should permeate not only the political class, but also the business community. Science and politics must go hand in hand with investment. So the winds blow.

If we think of growth hand in hand with development (that is, with a certain notion of distribution and equity) AI today allows the use of fewer pesticides, regulate the use of water, take care of the soil, spend less energy and use waste as a raw material within a circular economy, in addition to the improvements that come with it when applied in the state bureaucracy, citizen communication, access to health and education, etc.

Although it sounds like a paradox, the artificial can humanize. And if we prevail with an ethical sense, Argentine capacity has a chance.

If we produce and consume responsibly and efficiently, seeking to assert our comparative advantages as part of a country project, using the best available technology for the benefit of the whole and looking beyond the conjuncture, we will be in a position to put AI at the service of society and, perhaps, reverse a slope that today seems infinite.

Will our decision makers make the effort to rise to the challenge?

Mauro Berchi is a professor of the postgraduate course in Artificial Intelligence and Law at the UBA Law School.

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