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How NASA’s Mars rovers could shape ethical AI development

Ever since ChatGPT came out in late 2022, lots of news sources have been talking about the ethical problems caused by artificial intelligence. Tech experts have been giving cautions about killer robots trying to wipe out humanity, and the World Economic Forum said that machines are gonna snatch up our jobs.

The tech industry is cutting jobs while putting money into AI tools to work faster. In Hollywood, writers and actors are striking to save their gigs and faces. And experts keep proving how these systems make existing problems worse or make useless jobs—among a bunch of other issues.

There’s a smarter approach to getting AI into offices. In NASA’s robot spaceship crews, the folks are out there on Mars, using AI-powered rovers to explore. But this ain’t some sci-fi dream. It’s proof of how combining machine and human smarts can get things done, all working toward the same endgame.

Rather than kicking us to the curb, these robots team up with us to expand and enhance human abilities. Along the journey, they steer clear of typical ethical traps and carve out a kinder way to collaborate with AI.

Also Read: The shifting AI realm: What’s Next on the Horizon

Will AI actually take over jobs?

Tales about deadly robots and folks losing jobs show how this “replacement idea” rules the way folks see AI. Basically, people think machines can and will take over human jobs. But in the middle of this big fear, there’s also the hope of business benefits like working smarter, making more money, and having more free time.

Real-life proof says that using robots doesn’t actually save money. It just makes the rich richer by booting out the low-level folks and jacking up the pay for the higher-ups who stay. And now, the tools that make work easier just make us grind harder for the boss, not less. Instead of just kicking out humans, we got these “mixed autonomy” setups where people and robots team up. Like, self-driving cars need to learn how to navigate roads with us regular drivers. It’s called “mixed” ’cause both of them are in the same system, and what they do affects each other.

But lots of folks think mixed autonomy is just a pit stop on the road to getting rid of us altogether. And sometimes, it ends up with humans just feeding, organizing, or teaching AI tools. That puts us with all this “ghost work”: dull, bit-by-bit tasks that programmers hope AI will make useless before long.

Getting rid of people sets off warning bells for AI ethics. Stuff like labeling things to teach AI or cleaning up Facebook posts usually involves rough jobs and a poorly paid workforce all over the Global South. Plus, heaps of self-driving car designers can’t stop thinking about the “trolley problem”—figuring out if it’s okay to run over people. But my work with NASA’s robot spaceship crews proves that when companies ditch the idea of replacing humans and go for making teams of humans and robots, a bunch of the AI ethics problems disappear.

Boosting but not replacing

The best human-robot squads rock when they boost and add to what humans can do instead of pushing them out. Engineers make machines that handle tasks humans can’t. Then, they cleverly mix machine and human work to reach a common target. Robots got skills that humans don’t, and the other way around, too. A lot of times, this teamwork involves sending robots to handle tasks that are too risky for us, like sweeping mines, rescuing folks, doing spacewalks, and diving deep into the sea.

Working together also means using the best of what both robots and humans can offer. ‘Cause, you know, robots can do stuff that we can’t—and the other way around too. Take Mars, for example. Human eyes up there can only see a hazy, dusty red landscape stretching far. So engineers kit out Mars rovers with special camera gizmos to “see” light wavelengths that we can’t catch, giving back pics in fancy colors.

But these rovers’ AI brains can’t dish out scientific discoveries on their own. It’s only when colorful sensor results get mixed with expert talks that scientists can use these robotic eyes to uncover fresh facts about Mars.

Ethical challenges for AI lying ahead

AI faces more ethical problems with how data is collected and used. Stuff like creative AI learning from artists and writers without asking, business datasets being packed with unfairness, and ChatGPT coming up with answers that aren’t real.

Using this data in AI leads to all sorts of problems, from getting sued to treating people unfairly based on race. Even those Mars robots use data, computing muscle, and smart learning tricks to get things done. But what they need is info about what they see and how far things are to figure out where to go and capture sweet new pics. By concentrating on their surroundings instead of human society, these robots dodge the issues of spying, prejudice, and taking advantage that mess up today’s AI.

Robots can bring folks together by making them feel stuff when they fit right in. Like, tough soldiers get sad when drones get wrecked in battle, and families treat their Roombas like they’re part of the fam with names and personalities. When machines make us care, they can highlight— not mess with—what makes us human.

Also Read: Deepmind’s AI tool can be beneficial in predicting genetic diseases

AI-human partnership is paramount

In fields where AI might take over jobs, tech whizzes could think about how smart team-ups of humans and machines could boost what people can do instead of making it worse.

Folks making scripts might like a bot that can search for lines or check references in a snap. Artists could craft their own computer tricks to stay creative and get credit for what they do. And bots helping out software crews might make meetings better and catch mistakes when they put code together.

Sure, saying no to getting rid of people doesn’t fix all the ethics stuff with AI. But a lot of the issues tied to folks’ lives, choices, and unfairness change when the aim isn’t to replace them anymore.

Thinking about replacing folks is just one way AI and society could go. I mean, who’d watch Star Wars if the droids were the main heroes? For a better idea of how humans can live with AI, check out the teams of humans and machines that are already doing great, up there in space and down here on Earth.

Vishal Kawadkar
About author

With over 8 years of experience in tech journalism, Vishal is someone with an innate passion for exploring and delivering fresh takes. Embracing curiosity and innovation, he strives to provide an informed and unique outlook on the ever-evolving world of technology.