In this new episode, Alain Veuve has interviewed an AI expert, Edy Portmann, Swiss Post Professor at the University of Fribourg and Member of the Board of the Swiss Informatics Society. Through his experiences and researches, he is contributing to a more ethical and sustainable future of AI.
Throughout this episode, Alain Veuve and Edy Portmann will address the ethical questions posed by the use of AI, its limits and its future.
We have divided the exchange into six parts. Feel free to click on each to get directly to the information you are interested in.
Who is Edy Portmann?
Edy Portmann is Swiss Post Professor at the University of Fribourg and Member of the Board of the Swiss Informatics Society. His missions include working on the future of digitalization of society, how to make it more sustainable and ethical.
Edy Portmann’s view on today’s AI
“AI as we know it today is not that smart, or at least it could be that much smarter.” According to him, what is most missing in today’s technology is the notion of sustainability, communication, and inclusion in social discourse.
Using artificial intelligence, for instance, we are now able to design cars that can drive themselves (almost) on their own. What happens if a pedestrian crosses the road in an unexpected manner by the machine? Human interaction is still necessary in this case. But how can the exchange between the machine and the human be done in situations like this?
It is this necessary communication that still needs to be improved.
Within the framework of his collaboration with Swiss Post, he works on this subject (and many others) by looking at theories of psychology and sociology with the help of engineering design. He and his team implement prototypes and conduct experiments. They lead numerous experiments with Swiss citizens regarding their relationship to technology, always with the objective of designing a better future for technology.
Society’s view of AI
When discussing AI, many people still picture a conversation between a human and an intelligent robot. There is a connection between this idea and the fact that intelligence is at the core of evolution. As a result of AI, human beings will be able to evolve.
However, although today’s AI is already powerful, it is not powerful enough for this vision to become an everyday reality and accessible to everyone.
Humans have their brain (intelligence) connected to hardware (body). The body helps us process information. Today, we think we can load all this into a binary digital system and this system can help us save it. According to Edy, we’re still a long way from that in terms of hardware. “We need to get into binary so that we can get back to being partially analog.”
Ethics and AI
Edy Portmann raises the question of ethics when it comes to AI. According to him, if we don’t take ethics more into account in the development of intelligent systems, it might cause big problems in the future.
He explains it in a very relevant way by taking the example of LinkedIn:
“Suppose you have friends on Linkedin who don’t pay their debts. Linkedin realizes this and categorizes them as people who potentially don’t pay their debts. If big banks buy this data from Linkedin, this group of friends may be refused a loan from their bank. The question of ethics then takes all its meaning: What happens if these data are erroneous? What ethical problems does this pose? “
We are starting to encounter this kind of ethical problem, especially when it comes to data, he says, so it is high time to think about it!
How can we prevent these problems?
More and more companies, especially those in the public sector, are trying to implement solutions capable of guaranteeing a certain ethic with regard to the AI solutions they use.
Edy Portmann explains that today’s solutions are mostly regulations which, despite their positive consequences, have their limits. Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more common to see whitewashing or greenwashing on the part of large companies, which are the most concerned about this ethical issue.
Respecting the GDPR does not necessarily imply that the company is completely ethical, and citizens are becoming aware of this fact. A lot of work remains to be done on this issue, for a brighter future of technologies, in the interest of all.
Democracy and AI
Democracy is a principle that dates back 150 years. The results are stable but progress is very slow. Technology could help to make information better viewable, better storable and easier to search. By following this guideline, we could make a regulation more adapted and respectful of everyone’s rights.
Sadly, we are more in a letting things happen vs. making things happen mode.
Digital transformation is a positive thing if it is used wisely and in the interest of all. We could do great with technology but we still need to be aware of it. We also need to give ourselves the means to make its power capable of making the world a better place.
AI and energy resources
AI is great but it requires a lot of energy resources. The more we use AI, the more we have to look for ways to ensure sustainable outcomes.
If we continue to use AI in 100 years as we do today, but more intensively, then we will probably have to build many nuclear power plants. This cannot and should not be possible. We have to find new solutions,” says Edy Portamnn.
Thanks to Edy Portmann for sharing their experiences and ideas on the subject.