What if I simply stopped doing anything? The question shot through the mind of Professor Christoph Lütge as he drove in a highly automated car on the A9 from Munich to Ingolstadt for the first time in 2016. The test route had been opened a year earlier and vehicles that can accelerate, brake, and steer independently are allowed to use it. When a warning signal sounds, the driver has ten seconds to reassume control of the vehicle. And if the driver does not? What criteria does the on-board computer use to decide how to proceed? How does it prioritize? Lütge couldn’t stop thinking about these questions. He had come across a new, cutting-edge field of research.
The 49-year-old professor of business ethics at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has been researching how competition promotes corporate social and ethical responsibility for the past nine years. Before his test drive on the A9, he had had only a casual acquaintance with artificial intelligence (AI). Then he read studies, researched, talked to manufacturers. It quickly became clear to him that AI raises a number of ethical questions: who’s liable if something goes wrong? How comprehensible are the decisions made by intelligent systems? The transparency of the AI algorithms is also still insufficient: it is still often impossible to understand the criteria on the basis of which they make their decisions—the AI becomes a black box. “We must face up to these challenges, whether AI is used for diagnosing medical findings, fighting crime, or driving cars,” says Lütge. “In other words: we need to address the ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence.”
The idea that our life in the future will be determined by machines that know only logic but no ethics is an unsettling one for many people. In a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 27 countries, 41 percent of a total of 20,000 respondents said they were concerned about the use of AI. 48 percent want stronger regulation of companies, and 40 percent more restrictions on the use of artificial intelligence by governments and authorities.
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