Does AI Have A Conscience?

Brigette McInnis-Day

Technology has created a data-driven world. And now, with the power of artificial intelligence (AI), not only can technology analyze data, it can interpret information to guide or make decisions in many aspects of life, including business. AI allows companies to develop predictive tools that change how businesses run and people work and how we get value out of interactions. Without it, we use the same processes over and over to drive change in our business. We miss big ideas, innovation, and creating the future.

As we take steps closer to human-like AI, we face ethical, social, and economic challenges. For years, people have had to compete with machines for manual labor jobs such as assembly lines and agriculture. But now, competition has expanded into the skilled industry. Companies like Sony and Spotify have been investing in AI-assisted songwriting and production for the past two years, releasing a handful of singles between them.

If AI traded stocks, what would Wall Street look like? What impact are self-driving cars having?

Have we created our own competition?

The human touch is far from obsolete, but it has found a partner in AI. The stock market relies on the fickleness of humanity to rise and fall each day but, with the help of AI, we can better predict trends and foresee impacts. Machine learning can help songwriters make a top 40 hit with linguistic analysis.

We can build a smarter business.

But there is still a voice in the back of my head saying: Don’t use this data in the wrong way.

The power of AI is data 

How do we ensure that our workforce is trained to handle new skillsets and able to thrive in this new AI era? How do we ensure that the information we teach is without bias and is used ethically?

Over the course of my career, I’ve sat through many talent reviews where personal information unrelated to performance comes up in discussions around promotions, succession, and talent assessments. Things like: Is the person physically fit for a global role? Didn’t they just have a child? Will they move?

The good news is today these questions are either dismissed as irrelevant or answered if relevant (e.g., willingness to relocate). Now imagine a world where AI can provide insight into the number of hours someone sleeps, the number of children they have, or how many steps they log daily. What if this data is available? Might it become screening criteria – as a precursor to selection – before we make key decisions on talent? Will this result in bias creeping in from those teaching the AI algorithms?

Ethical responsibility is required for decisions in the corporate world to be free of discrimination and information that’s irrelevant to performance. This is true not only for employees, but also for candidates, temporary workers, customers, and any person a company touches. In addition, holding personal and sensitive information private is a prerequisite to instill trust, and this does not necessarily carry over to AI.

How do we teach AI what data it should and shouldn’t include in its decision-making process? Who is to decide? If AI is used in the wrong way, customer and employee privacy are at risk. Even it’s if not intentional, unintended outcomes can compromise customer and employee rights.

Data protection

Knowledge is power, and with great power comes great responsibility. It is our shared responsibility to not only be users and leaders in the AI space, but also to ensure the safety and protection of the information we have about all our employees and customers.

For decades, technology has led us toward progress and innovation in our lives. And it will continue to do so. But with this new step toward AI technologies, our involvement must change. This isn’t just software anymore. AI thinks, and the decisions we are trusting it to make will have an impact that is anything but artificial. This is why it is critical for all of us who are involved with developing and deploying AI to remain steadfastly committed to doing our part. We must be able to establish and abide by a clear, open, and transparent code of ethics about what AI can and shouldn’t do. And, ethically minded vendors must engage with employees, customers, and partners in ways that effectively balance the tremendous opportunities and risks brought about by AI.

The power of AI is here, and we must be prepared for its implications for privacy and the future of work.

The era of data ethics is upon us – and only the companies with the highest standards will win over global customers: “Can You Keep a (Data) Secret?


Brigette McInnis-Day

About Brigette McInnis-Day

Brigette McInnis-Day is the EVP of Human Resources at SAP. She leads the People and Organizational Strategy for the Global Customer Operations Business, which is SAP's customer-facing organization.