Bookup No. 8 — “The Ethics of A.I.”

Our latest bookup was on artificial intelligence, more specifically on Nick Bostrom’s essay “The Ethics of A.I.”. Our intention was to tap into issues which lie at the forefront of today’s social and intellectual narrative. And we were proved right: in terms of numbers, the chosen theme was a hit (16 participants🤯); however, in terms of substance, well… let’s just say there is room for improvement 😉.

How did the debate go?

It is fair to say we were bowled over by the enthusiasm and curiosity of the people in attendance (ages ranging from early 20s to late 30s). There is a (perhaps slightly underdeveloped) thirst for information, answers and purposeful social interaction which Bookups can try to cater for, if done wisely.

The bookup itself was meant to be an In-depth type of discussion, meaning that we would sit down to dissect the article into assumptions, premises and conclusions. Instead, and partly due to the fact that most of the participants had not read the article, the bookup turned into a general discussion on A.I.

Among others, we touched upon:

- Robotic ethics (or roboethics, as it is also called) versus machine ethics, both part of the wider field of the ethics of artificial intelligence 🤖. While the former concerns the moral behaviour of humans in designing, constructing and using artificial intelligence, the latter deals with the moral behaviour of the artificial intelligence itself. This piece of background information should have been, perhaps, highlighted at the beginning of the discussion for the sake of clarity;

- Task-specific A.I. versus Artificial General Intelligence (aka AGI or “real” A.I.) — the question which arises here is whether, and to what degree, machine ethics can be applied to task-specific A.I. (opinions varied widely, with no specific arguments);

- When it comes to prime directives/basic setups of A.I., most participants resorted to the three laws of robotics, as established by Asimov in 1942. These laws still remain the paradigm of moral behaviour of A.I., even though they have been revised throughout the years by professionals in different fields (e.g.: Zeroth Law — A robot may not harm humanity, or Fourth Law —A robot must always identify itself as a robot in all cases etc);

- When it comes to imposing values, principles and morals (especially accountability), another set of issues arises: the moral status of A.I. This area — and particularly the way in which the article chose to define it — would have made a fascinating exploration. Maybe better luck next time 👀;

- The idea of a global A.I. was tangentially discussed, and what was underlined as a major disadvantage was its vulnerability in the face of one single virus which can potentially wipe it out;One thing we all had in common? The horror of not being able to control A.I.;

- Further recommended reading: Empire of Ants, by Bernard Werber.

What did we learn?

💡Lesson 1: Structure! For this particular type of bookup that we had in mind, we must explore a potential discussion guide. A debate needs structure in order to generate meaningful takeaways, and subjects such as the A.I. are too important to be treated lightly.

💡Lesson 2: Quality over quantity — meaning we will have to restrict the number of participants. Depending on the type of bookup we have and the purpose it serves, we must pay more attention to the number of participants.

💡Lesson 3: Choose the location more wisely. The wine bar we had chosen had particularly loud music on for the night, despite their assurance to the contrary when we booked over the phone.

We were also able to draw a couple more of administrative conclusions which will be dully reflected in our future events and website 😎.

“The Ethics of A.I.” will be the subject of at least one more bookup in Bucharest, but also of two international bookups — in Stockholm and Amsterdam — taking place on Valentine’s Day 💙. We are definitely burning with curiosity to see how these two go, especially since they will be done remotely.


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TalkTheTalk is the result of a journey of discovery filled with excitement, sweat, life experiences & a passion for exploring human ideas together with others. We thank the AC running this simulation for allowing us to seek an answer to our question. However, it will not be our last--