DeepMind chief: Silicon Valley needs to take tech ethics seriously
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DeepMind chief: Silicon Valley needs to take tech ethics seriously

Mustafa Suleyman is a man who knows a thing or two about Big Tech. As a co-founder of DeepMind, the artificial intelligence (AI) market leader owned by Alphabet, which he still heads up, he is one of the world’s foremost experts on the industry. And he has a suggestion for his peers: start taking tech ethics seriously.

Alphabet’s share price has risen by 16% over the past 12 months

graph 2706 deepmind

SOURCE: Yahoo Finance

Suleyman says “Silicon Valley has to change its culture from tossing half-baked things over the fence,” meaning that it has to rethink its product development and put ethical considerations at the forefront of the process.

That means using more rigorous testing protocols to understand the potential for misuse, and figuring out the optimal ways in which users can use the tools Big Tech is creating. It also means putting safety at the forefront, and letting government be part of the process by creating “sandboxes” – self-contained data sets where algorithms can be put through their paces.

This year’s tech backlash, which has seen the public become concerned over privacy, political advertising, and fake news, might just exacerbate the situation. Suleyman said: “I think there has been a shock to the system. I think a lot of well-intentioned people are waking up to the fact that they’ve been operating in a bubble for a little while.”

However, this doesn’t mean that Suleyman is in agreement with another of Silicon Valley’s most prominent technocrats, Elon Musk. Musk has warned that artificial intelligence could pose an existential threat to humanity, and without careful design, could end up obliterating the species. Suleyman’s rejoinder is brief and simple: “Elon’s predictions are far-fetched to say the least.”

Where Suleyman sees danger in poorly designed and tested AI products is more mundane: mapping systems that help avoid traffic congestion might backfire by inadvertently sending hue numbers of vehicles down roads ill-suited to them, for example.

DeepMind is still the world’s leading AI laboratory – and Suleyman is the pioneer who positioned it as such. If he says Big Tech’s going to change, keep watching.


Dominion holds Alphabet in its Global Trends Managed Fund.

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