Leadership Ethics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Executives Set the Corporate Moral Barometer.
AI and Tech are No Exception.

By John Decker, EVP MDL Parnter

Leaders are selected, in part, based on whether they reflect the ethics of their organization and constituents. At the same time, leaders in many ways determine the ethical standards of their organization. As a senior executive or CEO, you set the ethical culture, tone, and reputation of your business.

As you move up the corporate ladder ethics and ethical decision-making become more complex. Different constituents have different ethical frameworks, the pressure to perform may tempt ethical compromise, while at the same time, the spotlight on your behavior is much stronger. To be successful in your work and your career, you must become a constant student of ethics. And now, the rapid growth of artificial intelligence creates a new set of ethical issues for CEOs and executives.

Thee General Principles of AI Ethics include:

  • Transparency: Corporations should be transparent about how they use AI and the data they collect.
  • Accountability: Corporations should be accountable for the decisions that were made by their AI systems. Internally, there should be clear accountability for the use of AI systems, clear rules and regulations governing their development, use, and deployment.
  • Fairness: AI systems should be fair and not discriminate against certain groups of people.
  • Privacy: Corporations should protect the privacy of the data that they collect, use, and store.
  • Safety: AI systems should be safe and not pose a risk to people.
  • Explainability: AI systems should be explainable so that users can understand how they work, can monitor, and make informed decisions about their use.
  • Safety and Security: AI systems should be designed to be safe and secure, protected from cyber-attacks and other threats, and should not cause harm to people and property.
  • Human Control: Humans should always retain control over AI systems.
  • Impact on Society: It is important to consider the potential impact, both positive and negative, of AI on society as various forms are widely deployed.

There are a few additional specific considerations for CEOs and senior executives. (That’s why you are paid the big bucks.) You have the ethical imperative to ensure AI is developed and used responsibly. In addition to the general guidelines for AI above and the emerging legal and regulatory requirements, C-suite executives should:

  • Ensure their businesses are taking full advantage of AI capabilities to maintain competitive advantage and best serve their constituents.
  • Actively fund and evaluate AI initiatives.
  • Oversee AI development and use throughout the organization with clear reporting, policies, and procedures, including to the board and investors.
  • Assign clear responsibility for oversight of development and use of AI including regulatory and legal developments. There should be “one throat to choke”.
  • Ensure the collection and use of data and information comply with confidentiality, security, and legal requirements.
  • Ensure AI output will not be used for harmful purposes, and it will meet a more basic ethical sniff test – will it pass the Wall Street Journal, social media, and local newspaper cover story test.
  • Ensure money, resources, and time are made available for AI training for employees, board members, and possibly suppliers and customers. This will also ensure the organization will build and retain a competitive AI skill set.
  • Where staff reductions might be made as jobs are eliminated, ensure all efforts are being made to retain, retrain, and reassign those affected.
  • Ensure the risk management function and executive organization address the risks of AI. If necessary, add an independent outside resource.
  • Consider adding an AI page to the board book.
  • Prepare and distribute clear written policies and guidelines around the use of AI, data, and confidential information.
  • Where AI is used in creating work product, provide a clear identifier or watermark to indicate that AI was part of its creation.
  • Join and become active in industry associations and promote broader AI standards. Call out companies that abuse AI.
  • By example, get yourself up the AI learning curve.

We have covered a lot of territory here and have just barely scratched the surface. In the real world, dealing with ethical issues can become extremely complex and ambiguous, and there are temptations everywhere. So, let’s simplify – take the high road at every turn.

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