In recent years, the field of AI Ethics has gained recognition as an essential component to building responsible technology. Alongside this growing movement, a new profession has emerged to help guide the implementation of ethics into technology: the AI Ethicist.
Although the role of an AI Ethicist may be listed as an essential position within the corporate structure , it still remains unclear as to what this role exactly entails and who is meant to fill it. Therefore, the purpose of this piece is to offer a preliminary definition of an AI Ethicist, providing the baseline from which we can move forward in refining what is to become a fundamental profession in the coming decades of technological development. To do such, I will start by stripping back the layers of context and simply define what it means to be an ethicist. From there, I will examine the concept of an ethicist in the context of artificial intelligence, followed by exploring what responsibilities are added to the role in industry specifically, and ending on the fundamental characteristic that underlies it all: bravery.
Before we can begin defining what it means to be an AI Ethicist, I must draw two key distinctions for clarity before engaging in the topic. First, it must be established that there is a clear difference between the field of AI Ethics and the profession of an AI Ethicist. The field of AI Ethics, generally speaking, encompasses a wide variety of profiles; from technologists and programmers, to evangelists and advocates, to policymakers and researchers, the common factor uniting this plethora of players being the intrinsic motivation to create responsible technology that pursues the human as the end beneficiary . Think of AI Ethics as a puzzle, with each one of these profiles being a different piece, each one playing a vital role in contributing to the overall picture. This multidisciplinary perspective is crucial, as it enables a critical analysis of the ethical implications and consequences of artificial intelligence, and technology in general, to take place across discipline, culture, and mindset.
I draw this analogy to emphasize a clear distinction between the field and the profession, as the AI Ethicist is only one piece to the puzzle of AI Ethics. Because the AI Ethicist is named so closely after the field, there is a tendency to assume that only AI Ethicists are the ones at work in AI Ethics, that only they have the power to impact the change needed. This is not true, as can be seen by the brief list above of the other pertinent roles to the field. However, it is important to note that the AI Ethicist is an essential role, much like an edge puzzle piece to the overall picture, and so is worth defining in close detail. It is the specific role, and not the field, that I will, therefore, be focusing on in this piece.
The second distinction I must make is between the academic and the industry AI Ethicist. Beyond any doubt, the work and research being done in academia by those who would term themselves AI Ethicists is vitally important. However, my objective for this piece is to explore the title in the context of industry. An AI Ethicist is much easier to define within academia, as, generally speaking, they are the philosophers concerned directly with the ethical questions surrounding modern technology. The industry AI Ethicist, on the other hand, remains only a vaguely understood concept riddled with controversy. Therefore, it is in greater need of definition and will be the focus of this piece.