Previous tech innovations like electricity or the telephone spread gradually. Today’s disruptive innovations like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Web3 are spreading through society in months rather than years.
The rate of change itself is disruptive, prompting scientists, politicians, activists, and consumers to scrutinize the ethics of AI and Web3. Let’s take a look behind the scenes.
The Emerging Debate about the Ethics of AI and Web3
Web3, blockchain tech, and crypto picked up speed during the pandemic. NFTs boomed, and the metaverse scaled with brands and fans. Growth in web3 sparked questions from the public about energy use, sustainability, crypto fraud, and even mental health implications for avid AR/VR users.
Post-COVID-19, NFTs are in a regulatory flux while mainstream industries’ adoption of blockchain is accelerating. In November 2002, ChatGPT’s launch signaled AI’s coming-of-age party. ChatGPT became the fastest-growing company in history, gaining subscribers at a rate that shocked even the OpenAI team.
Ethics in emerging technologies is a huge topic, too much to cover in one blog post. This post gives a broad overview of the context, issues, and actions around the emerging ethics of AI and web3.
Let’s start with the context for the emergence of AI and Web3.
Capitalism and Ethics in AI and Web3 Innovation
US-based companies are behind most of the commercial growth in Web3 and AI. Like all corporations in capitalistic countries, they must create value and profit first and worry about significant social implications later.
The market, investors, and even consumers don’t often give extra points to companies for figuring out ethical implications ahead of time. Oil, chemicals, and plastics are relevant examples of hugely profitable industry sectors with questionable ethical track records.
The Difference Between AI and Web3
AI and Web3 are shaping our digital future, yet they operate on very different principles.
AI is a computer science specialization focused on creating machines capable of performing tasks that typically require human intelligence. The broader field of AI encompasses several subsets. The overall promise of AI is to advance human development by automating complex tasks, enhancing efficiency, and unlocking new frontiers of knowledge and capability.
Web3 is not a field in computer science. Web3 is a concept that refers to the next evolution of the World Wide Web.
The businesses of Web2 (our current version) are very centralized, with a few giant companies such as Alphabet (Google), Amazon, ByteDance (TikTok), and Meta controlling the most popular platforms and web traffic.
Web3 leverages blockchain technology, a decentralized ledger system. Blockchain can potentially transition Web2 into a more democratic and decentralized Web3.
For example, the huge Web2 companies built their businesses by collecting user data for free and selling it to advertisers. In Web3, blockchain technology enables individuals to regain control of their data and identity and receive compensation for sharing them.
While AI and Web3 are different, they both have their ethical challenges. Let’s take a look.
Ethical Implications of AI
Humans are adopting AI at a record pace. At the same time, governments and ethics watchdogs are grappling with ethical considerations such as:
- Privacy concerns: AI’s ability to collect and analyze vast amounts of data from the web means personal data can get swept up into the data sets.
- Bias and Misinformation: AI algorithms can reinforce biases in their training data.
- Dependency on Automation: Over-reliance on AI for problem-solving can lead to declining critical thinking skills.
- Digital Divide: AI-driven education platforms may widen the digital divide between those with access to cutting-edge technology and those without.
- Skill Obsolescence: As AI takes over routine and complex tasks, there is a risk of devaluing human skills in specific domains, reducing incentives for people to develop these skills.
- Intellectual Property Concerns: Will generative AI’s ability to create new content devalue original research and creativity?
- The Black Box Problem: Complex AI systems’ decision-making processes are opaque. Lack of transparency can undermine trust and accountability, especially in critical domains like healthcare, law enforcement, and financial services.
- AI at War: Autonomous weaponry is one of the most pressing ethical considerations. Mechanizing war can lead to scaling loss of life and lethal errors from lack of human oversight.
- Environmental impact: AI can support innovative solutions for a planet struggling with climate change. However, the energy requirements and environmental impact of training large AI models are ongoing concerns.
Addressing these ethical challenges requires robust regulatory frameworks, ethical AI design principles, and a commitment to ongoing research into fair and responsible AI practices.
In November 2021, UNESCO produced the first global standard on AI ethics. All 193 Member States adopted the framework. The recommendations’ cornerstones emphasize human oversight of AI and protecting human rights and dignity.
Web3 and Ethical Governance
Most problems in society and government stem from a lack of transparency and abuse of centralized control. Centralized power can lead to abuse of authority, lack of transparency, and suppression of competition and innovation.
Modern economies are very centralized. Businesses own vast data silos; governments control federal finance and databases of citizen information. High-profile hacks remind us that centralized systems are vulnerable to single points of failure.
One downside of rapid innovation is that it can outpace the regulatory process, leading to missteps in the marketplace. Cryptocurrency’s horrible track record with fraud and hacks, primarily due to lack of regulation, is a prime example.
Blockchain can seem like the white knight of tech innovations compared to AI’s dark side. In theory, blockchain’s transparency, decentralization, and tamper-proof nature means it can shine light in dark corners, cut out shady backroom deals, reduce errors, and automate transactions with smart contracts that aren’t susceptible to bribes or threats.
Blockchain could also reform central pillars of finance, government, and society.
However, blockchain and Web3 have ethical conflicts, too, such as:
- Privacy Concerns: Any connected node can store and access Data on a blockchain. This multiplies security and privacy concerns, depending on what data is stored.
- Technological Disparities: Due to the digital divide, access to Web3 technology remains uneven across different socio-economic groups.
- Governance and Regulation: Decentralized networks can make regulatory compliance, such as anti-money laundering (AML) and combating the financing of terrorism (CFT), more challenging.
- Energy Consumption: The proof-of-work systems that underpin many blockchain technologies can have a significant environmental impact.
- Scalability and Performance: Current blockchain technology faces scalability challenges, limiting the practical utility and ethical deployment of Web3 services.
- Cybersecurity Risks: While blockchain is secure by design, the surrounding infrastructure, including exchanges and wallets, is vulnerable to attacks.
- Smart Contract Flaws: The immutable nature of smart contracts means that it’s difficult to correct mistakes, potentially leading to loss of funds and other unintended consequences.
Climate change and wealth disparity are pressing global problems. The potential for technology to make things worse means we need ongoing ethical scrutiny, inclusive dialogue, and adaptive policy-making to ensure that the ethics of AI and Web3 closely align with the broader societal good.
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The above is for general info purposes only and should not be interpreted as professional advice. Please seek independent legal, financial, tax, or other advice specific to your particular situation.