Can we really teach robots ethics and morality…

I was having a regular coffee with a very good friend and affluent data scientist at the Institute of Directors recently in London, we share many great past times including reading and writing, and were discussing at our meeting ethical and moral values with robots, my question was can we teach robots right from wrong.

The facts are artificial intelligence (AI) is outperforming humans in a range of areas, but can we program or teach robots to behave ethically and morally?

Twitter has admitted that as many as 23 million (8.5 percent) of its user accounts are autonomous Twitterbots. Many are there to increase productivity, conduct research, or even have some fun. Yet many have been created with harmful intentions. In both cases, the bots have been known to behave with questionable ethics – maybe because they’re merely minor specimens of artificial intelligence (AI).

Humans are currently building far-more sophisticated machines which will face questions of ethics on monumental scales. Even in the mortality of human beings. So how do we make sure they make the right choices when the time comes?

Now, all of this is based on the idea that a computer can even comprehend ethics.

If cognitive machines don’t have the capacity for ethics, who is responsible when they break the law?

Currently, no one seems to know. Ryan Calo of the University of Washington School of Law notes: “Robotics combines, for the first time, the promiscuity of data with the capacity to do physical harm; robotic systems accomplish tasks in ways that cannot be anticipated in advance; and robots increasingly blur the line between person and instrument.”

The process for legislation is arduously slow, while technology, on the other hand, makes exponential haste.

The crimes can be quite serious, too. Netherlands developer Jeffry van der Goot had to defend himself — and his Twitterbot — when police knocked on his door, inquiring about a death threat sent from his Twitter account. Then there’s Random Darknet Shopper; a shopping bot with a weekly allowance of $100 in Bitcoin to make purchases on Darknet for an art exhibition. Swedish officials weren’t amused when it purchased ecstasy, which the artist put on display. (Though, in support for artistic expression they didn’t confiscate the drugs until the exhibition ended.)

In both of these cases, authorities did what they could within the law, but ultimately pardoned the human proprietors because they hadn’t explicitly or directly committed crimes. But how does that translate when a human being unleashes an AI with the intention of malice?

Legions of robots now carry out our instructions unreflectively. How do we ensure that these creatures, regardless of whether they’re built from clay or silicon, always work in our best interests?

Should we teach them to think for themselves? And if so, how are we to teach them right from wrong?

In 2017, this is an urgent question. Self-driving cars have clocked up millions of miles on our roads while making autonomous decisions that might affect the safety of other human road-users. Roboticists in Japan, Europe and the United States are developing service robots to provide care for the elderly and disabled. One such robot carer, which was launched in 2015 and dubbed Robear (it sports the face of a polar-bear cub), is strong enough to lift frail patients from their beds; if it can do that, it can also, conceivably, crush them. Since 2000 the US Army has deployed thousands of robots equipped with machineguns, each one able to locate targets and aim at them without the need for human involvement (they are not, however, permitted to pull the trigger unsupervised).

Public figures have also stoked the sense of dread surrounding the idea of autonomous machines. Elon Musk, a tech entrepreneur, claimed that artificial intelligence is the greatest existential threat to mankind. Last summer the White House commissioned four workshops for experts to discuss this moral dimension to robotics. As Rosalind Picard, director of the Affective Computing Group at MIT puts it: “The greater the freedom of a machine, the more it will need moral standards.”

Teaching robots how to behave on the battlefield may seem straightforward, since nations create rules of engagement by following internationally agreed laws. But not every potential scenario on the battlefield can be foreseen by an engineer, just as not every ethically ambiguous situation is covered by, say, the Ten Commandments. Should a robot, for example, fire on a house in which a high value target is breaking bread with civilians? Should it provide support to a group of five low-ranking recruits on one side of a besieged town, or one high-ranking officer on the other? Should the decision be made on a tactical or moral basis?

In conclusion of whether we should teach robots or not right from wrong, you should think about science fiction or a James Bond movie, the moment at which a robot gains sentience is typically the moment at which we believe that we have ethical obligations toward our creations. The idea of formalising ethical guidelines is not new.
More than seven decades ago, science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov described the “three laws of robotics”: a moral compass for artificial intelligence. The laws required robots to:

  • protect humans
  • obey instructions
  • preserve themselves

(in that order).

The fundamental premise behind Asimov’s laws was to minimize conflicts between humans and robots. In Asimov’s stories, however, even these simple moral guidelines lead to often disastrous unintended consequences. Either by receiving conflicting instructions or by exploiting loopholes and ambiguities in these laws, Asimov’s robots ultimately tend to cause harm or lethal injuries to humans.Today, robotics requires a much more nuanced moral code than Asimov’s “three laws.”

An iPhone or a laptop may be inscrutably complex compared with a hammer or a spade, but each object belongs to the same category: tools. And yet, as robots begin to gain the semblance of emotions, as they begin to behave like human beings, and learn and adopt our cultural and social values, perhaps the old stories need revisiting. At the very least, we have a moral obligation to figure out what to teach our machines about the best way in which to live in the world. Once we have done that, we may well feel compelled to reconsider how we treat them…..

As Thomas Bangalter once said:

“The concept of the robot encapsulates both aspects of technology. On one hand it’s cool, it’s fun, it’s healthy, it’s sexy, it’s stylish. On the other hand it’s terrifying, it’s alienating, it’s addictive, and it’s scary. That has been the subject of much science-fiction literature.”

What really happened to Hemingway…

Many years ago, I have the fortune to visit Key West with a great friend of mine who has a love for motorcycle experiences, we drove on the Harley from Miami to Key West on our latest adventure.

We decided to visit Ernest Hemingway’s House in Key West, Hemingway was an incredible man, truly a genius of his kind, who had an attitude toward living and life that was like no other, and very few have received a Nobel Prize.

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. Additional works, including three novels, four short story collections, and three non-fiction works, were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.

On July 2nd 1961 Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at the age of sixty-one. There have been five suicides in the Hemingway family in more than four generations – Hemingway’s dad, Clarence; children Ursula, Leicester and Ernest; and granddaughter Margaux. The generation skipped barely escaped: Hemingway’s most youthful child, originally called Gregory, died in 2001 after coming out as a woman, Gloria, of reasons that put a ton of strain on the expression “natural.”

What really happened to Ernest Hemmingway…….it is still a remaining mystery, his genius, the constant rewriting, the constant searching for a better phrase, a better word. Hemingway was completely ruthless with himself, as you would expect with such a successful author.

Adversity of any magnitude should make us stronger and fill us with life’s wisdom, why someone from whom became so successful at 61 in 1961 should take his own life, is something that I cannot quite comprehend or understand.

However, art in any form is born from adversity, I wrote ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ from adversity and set up a business in the double dip of 2008 and 2009, many people have done the same and it is almost a universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds. For artists who have struggled with physical and mental illness, parental loss during childhood, social rejection, heartbreak, abandonment, abuse, and other forms of trauma, creativity often becomes an act of turning difficulty and challenge into opportunity.

Much of the music we listen to, the plays we see, the books we read, and the paintings we look at among other forms of performing art are attempts to find meaning in human suffering. Art seeks to make sense of everything from life’s potentially smallest moments of sadness to its most earth-shattering tragedies. You have heard the statement ‘there is a book in everyone’ we all experience and struggle with suffering. In our individual and collective quest to understand the darker sides of human life, works of art like Kahlo’s self-portraits, which show us the truth of another’s pain and loneliness, carry the power to move us deeply in emotion.

We are constantly told, throughout our lives, that what does not kill us makes us stronger. It is difficult to think of a phrase that is more deeply ingrained in our cultural imagination than that one, Bob Marley once staid ‘“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” .Platitude though it may be, the expression has become common parlance because it expresses a fundamental truth of human psychology: Experiences of extreme adversity show us our own strength. And in the wake of trying times, many people not only return to their baseline state of functioning, but learn to truly thrive.

Writer Andrew Solomon has spent his career telling stories of the hardships of others. In the following video, a moving, heartfelt and at times downright funny talk, Solomon gives a powerful call to action to forge meaning from our biggest struggles:

My final word on the subject is that determination, resilience, and persistence are the enabler for people to push past their adversities and prevail. Overcoming adversity is one of our main challenges in life. When we resolve to confront and overcome it, we become expert at dealing with it and consequently triumph over our day-to-day struggles.

As Eckhart Tolle once said:

“Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.”

Do we marry just people or real connections?

Some of you will remember a blog that I wrote in July 2015 called ‘Can Love Last Forever’ – this was written just before another interesting blog ‘Can Love Conquer All or is Love a Myth?’. I have often written on the subject of love and relationships and recently reminisced on the subject ‘Do we marry just people in our life, or do we marry real connections?’

Or as William Shakesphere once said in his play is ‘The World Just a Stage?

The meaning of this phrase is that this world is like a stage and all human beings are merely actors – Oscar Wilde has put his spin on this phrase, declaring that, “The world is a stage, and the play is badly cast.” Allan Moore in his novel, V for Vendetta, has taken it to a completely new level by saying that, “All the world’s a stage, and everything else is vaudeville.” Now notice how people love to quote this phrase, because it sounds very clever, and they believe that this line has something that still resonates today.

With the world stage aside the facts are instead of strong, meaningful conversations and relationships, we struggle through long series of bad dates and so called hook-ups. Instead of meeting people in real life, we are constantly swiping and messaging somebody new. Instead of telling people how we feel, we do not text back. We no longer have people cancel, we get flaked on, and then we flake on other people. We no longer date or commit, we “see” and “hang out” with each other. We are complicit in a dating culture that systematically prevents intimacy. I believe and evidence certainly supports this, that we have become a generation afraid of being in love.

One could say “We are complicit in a dating culture that systematically prevents intimacy”.

I read a recent article from UCLA called ‘What does being committed to your marriage really mean?’ UCLA psychologists answered this question in a new study based on their analysis of 172 married couples over the first 11 years of marriage.

“When people say, ‘I’m committed to my relationship,’ they can mean two things,” said study co-author Benjamin Karney, a professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA. “One thing they can mean is, ‘I really like this relationship and want it to continue.’ However, commitment is more than just that.”

The psychologists’ report demonstrated that a deeper level of commitment, is a much better predictor of lower divorce rates and fewer problems in marriage.

Of the 172 married couples in the study, 78.5 percent were still married after 11 years, and 21.5 percent were divorced. The couples in which both people were willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the marriage were significantly more likely to have lasting and happy marriages, according to Bradbury, Karney and lead study author Dominik Schoebi, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar who is currently at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg.

So, do we marry a ‘soul mate’ or a ‘life partner’?

Soul Mate:
Someone who is aligned with your soul and is sent to challenge, awaken and stir different parts of you in order for your soul to transcend to a higher level of consciousness and awareness. Once the lesson has been learnt, physical separation usually occurs.

Life Partner:
A companion, a friend, a stable and secure individual who you can lean on, trust and depend on to help you through life. There is a mutual feeling of love and respect and you are both in sync with each others needs and wants.

At different times of our lives we will need and want different types of relationships. Neither is better or worse than the other, it is all a personal decision and one that you will feel guided to as long as you are following your heart.

In summary, our childhoods taught us to value love; but our institutions, cities, and technology have taught us to fear commitment and put choice first. We are trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of emotional distance with each other. Most of us really want love at some point, but our actions are at war with this desire. We maintain emotional distance because we fear commitment and rejection, not because that is our true self. We replace the feeling of true intimacy with short term flings, long term noncommittal hook-ups, and sex. We comfort ourselves knowing at least we’re not feeling the stinging pain of a broken heart, at least we don’t have to deal with real emotions. My belief is that we have trapped ourselves in a cycle that we are all complicit within.

This cycle is detrimental to us all. Happiness means different things to different people. For some, it is marriage and kids, for others it is traveling the world, and for others it is a rainy day with a good book. One thing that we all share, however, is that having strong, positive relationships in our life is one of the keys to happiness and fulfillment. Even anecdotally, we know this to be true.

When we keep emotional distance because of the fear of rejection, we lose out on one of the most important aspects of being human. Deep inside, we know we are unfulfilled but we do not know how to fix ourselves. So, we play the game where there are no winners. We must break free from this culture that damages us all and learn to love again.

For most of us, improving our relationships is one of the best things we can do in our lives. For me, with this realisation and my committed effort to being more open, honest, and straightforward, I have been able to not only improve how I treat other people, but also the quality of my relationships with my circle of wonderful friends.

Maybe, this is the answer to a happier and more fulfilling life, maybe it will just make me a better person, and maybe it has lead me to finding love, my true love and soul mate. I just know I do not want to be complicit in modern dating culture anymore. I am happy when building real emotional connections in business and in life, and I guess, that is what we all want in the end,  to be happy and in love with real connections, real people, real life – not a world stage.

One of my favourite quotes by Oscar Wilde:

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”

What can we learn from Darwin in today’s technological world

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809. The world he was born into would be entirely unrecognisable to us today. Bicycles had yet to be invented, steam engines were just beginning to appear, and slavery was commonly practiced in both England and the United States. During the course of his lifetime, Darwin saw the world around him change enormously, but arguably the most significant change came from his own ideas. Darwin’s theory evolution of natural selection, altered the ways we think about almost every aspect of life.

While Darwin’s theory was ground breaking, shocking, and tremendously illuminating during his lifetime, what can it mean for us today? With all the time that has passed since Darwin’s birth, is there anything we can still learn from him? In the pursuit of science and everyday life, there are countless ways Darwin’s words still ring true today.

I recently watched a film called ‘Concussion’, which triggered the thoughts behind this blog. Starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born pathologist who brought the issue of brain damage in retired NFL players to the forefront, Concussion is the sort of underdog-stares-down-corporate-behemoth feature that reliably manages to stir up some awards buzz.

The true-life story began unfolding in September 2002 when Omalu, then with the Allegheny County coroner’s office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was assigned to perform an autopsy on the body of Mike Webster. Known as “Iron Mike,” Webster was a beloved former Pro Bowler with Pittsburgh Steelers, the anchor of a front line that helped the team win four Super Bowls. However, his mental health deteriorated to the point where he was ranting at strangers and zapping himself with a Taser gun, until his death from a heart attack at age 50.

In the film, Dr. Bennet Omalu did significant research across Darwin’s observations of birds and quoted in the film: ‘All of these animals have shock absorbers built into their bodies. The woodpecker’s tongue extends through the back of the mouth out of the nostril, encircling the entire cranium. It is the anatomical equivalent of a safety belt for its brain. Human beings? Not a single piece of our anatomy protects us from those types of collisions. A human being will get concussed at sixty G’s. A common head-to-head contact on a football field? One hundred G’s. God did not intend for us to play football.’

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was subsequently hauled in to testify before a House Judiciary Committee in October 2009 about safety measures, and stricter guidelines were established in the pro game to limit head injuries. Still, dozens of former players embarked on legal action against the NFL in 2011, claiming that the league had failed to adequately warn and protect them. As of the summer of 2015, more than 5,000 former players were involved in a consolidated lawsuit, with a settlement figure of $765 million deemed insufficient by a judge.

This was just one example of Darwin and his teachings in our fast-technological world, it could be said that we do not observe enough, and only in times of necessity or extreme need, as with the case with ‘Concussion.’

Nature is wonderful. Darwin taught us that complex animals like birds, frogs, and even humans came about in complex ways over long periods of time. Evidence for this history is everywhere, you just have to stop and notice the details. His vivid description of an entangled bank reminds me that there is wonder in acknowledging this simple fact from time to time:

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.”

Beauty can be found in the struggle. Darwin knew all too well that nature can be brutal. Individual animals fight, starve, and die other horrible deaths. Darwin acknowledged that existence is a struggle, that nature is often at war, and that resources are scarce. Somehow, he still found solace in the end product:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object of which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

We are all connected and we depend on each other. Evolution reminds us that all living creatures came about through the same basic principles. We all evolved from common ancestors in the remote past, from simple beginnings. Let’s return to Darwin’s entangled bank quote. He asks us to:

“….reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner…”

His theories are now associated with business through the concept of ‘Darwinian Economics’, namely that it is organisations that are best able to adapt that are most likely to survive.

But what else can you, entrepreneur, business leader or individual learn from Charles Darwin?

Use the power of observation. Many people are so busy making decisions, analysing problems and seeking answers that they pay no attention to simply observing. Darwin, on the other hand, spent much of his career observing. He spent six years, for example, dissecting and describing in eye-watering detail the structure of barnacles!

If you are observing you cannot be analysing, and vice versa, and it was Darwin’s observations that formed the basis of his idea that changed the world. His five years on the Beagle trip, for example, involved him taking thousands of samples of various species.
Observation requires getting out there, suspending your beliefs and simply taking note. It cannot be done from behind a desk through reports.

How much time do you spend on the front-line observing your team or your customers rather than analysing second or third-hand data?

Looking to the past for innovation breakthroughs. Darwin was not the first person to have thought of the concept for evolution: he was not even the first person in his own family to have the idea! His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had promulgated the idea that all animals had a common origin before Charles was born.

Similarly you can see the process of recombining ideas in other major breakthroughs and innovations. For example, Lou Gerstener refocused IBM away from hardware to service and consultancy support by connecting his prior (negative) experience as an IBM customer with his McKinsey consultancy experience and with the existence of a highly-active sales support unit within the company. This change in strategic direction transformed IBM from a company delivering record losses in the early 1990’s to multi-billion dollar profits by the end of the century.

What are you doing to make new connections that lead to new, breakthrough concepts?

You can only change the world through action, not thinking. Darwin sat on his theory for 17 years before he published ‘On The Origin Of The Species’. He held back publication in order to ensure that he had irrevocable evidence to support his theory (hence his interest in barnacles!). Darwin’s hand was only forced when a rival publication was developed and his desire to be seen as the originator of the idea of evolution overcame his need to be 100% certain of his ideas.

Likewise, taking action and prudent risks is the cornerstone of business growth and an offensive, rather than defensive strategy, is critical for ongoing survival and success. For example, Gillette has established market leadership by a stream of innovations that make their existing ranges obsolete. As a senior Gillette executive once said, “We have never launched a major new product without having its successor in development. You have to steer the market.”

In summary, the miraculous discoveries upon Darwin’s ideas established a philosophy by introducing the time factor, by demonstrating the importance of chance and contingency, and by showing that theories in evolution are based on a set of new principles that influence the thinking of every person in the living world, through evolution, can be explained without recourse to supernaturalism; essentialism or typology, and possibly one of the most important facts is that we must adopt population thinking, in which all individuals are unique with a belief and a can do attitude.

One of Darwin’s most famous quotes:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”