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Ethics & AI: Tech’s potential to influence the human decision making process

While it might sound the stuff of sci-fi horror movies, research is undergoing to understand the potency of artificial intelligence (AI) to exploit human vulnerabilities – specifically in the human decision-making process.

A new study has shown that by analysing our habits and patterns, machine learning gains valuable insight into how a person makes decisions. This knowledge then allows AI to steer them towards a desired goal or action.

Theoretical Research

The study has been carried out by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, in partnership with the Australian National University, Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and University of Tübingen.

Three separate experiments were carried out where human participants played games against a computer. The research concentrated on three elements:

  • Action selection
  • Response inhibition
  • Social decision-making

By analysing and learning from the human response to certain moves, it was evident that the AI not only identified vulnerabilities in the individual’s decision-making but actively targeted these. This then allowed the machine to steer their opponent in a direction towards particular actions.

While the research is only theoretical at present, it has powerful implications.

Dr Amir Desfouli, a machine learning expert and neuroscientist research lead at CSIRO said of the results:

“AI and machine learning offers significant benefits across many areas, including health. Ultimately, how responsibly we set these technologies will determine if they will be used for good outcomes for society or manipulated for gain. This research advances our understanding of how people make choices and will help us better detect and avoid patterns which could be misused”. 

Qs with every advancement in human history, there’s always the potential for risk. Any technology can be used for good or bad – the key is to ensure education and understanding around the ethics of its use.

Ethics Surrounding Technology

However, the concept that the research has shown might not be as shocking as some may think. After all, the whole idea behind AI is for it to learn. But these results represent some rather staggering implications.

Director of CSIRO’s Data61, Dr Jon Whittle, said:

“This research is further proof that AI technologies are powerful, with tremendous potential for societal benefit, but also ethical risks.”

It only goes to further highlight the importance behind the creation of a framework to bring policies and strategies to positively support the development and use of AI.

Such machine learning power also brings with it tremendous potential. This includes using the technology to further understand human responses and generate positive behaviours in return. It could also be used to build trust. One aspect that the research has highlighted is that we’re only at the beginning of what can be achieved with AI – and what an exciting future it holds.

Read the whole research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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