Technology | Innovation

Stronger laws and ethical principles needed for technology

The debate of AI and ethics is one that the world needs to have, because unless you have law, only ethical people will behave ethically, Microsoft President, Brad Smith told a CEDA audience in Canberra.

“If we want to live in countries and in a world that imposes some level of greater responsibility across the board when it comes to technology, there's only one way to do it, and that is through new and stronger laws,” he said.

“No matter what people did to try to use technology more effectively to prevent the kinds of horrific videos that got distributed around the world from the terrorist tragedy in Christchurch, we didn't do enough. 

“Technology didn't do what it needed to do, and so we really come together at a moment where one has to begin by acknowledging that the tech sector needs to do more, and I think one needs to acknowledge that government itself has an ever-growing role to play, moving at an ever-faster pace to address these issues. 

“It is striking to see, on some sad days, the degree to which digital discourse has become so toxic.

“While there's a huge leap from hateful speech to an armed attack, we don't create a safer world when people seem to lose sight that the standards of civilisation in the real world also actually need to apply online, so we have a lot of work to do.”

Mr Smith said Microsoft have been talking to governments around the world about the principles that they’ll stand up to defend.

“We believe strongly that law enforcement and the intelligence community needs access to data to keep the public safe,” he said.

“But we also believe it needs to be governed by the rule of law, and with respect for privacy.

“I think we always have to start by recognising and acknowledging that we are the first line of defence, and have the first responsibility to keep people safe. 

“These are our platforms, these are our technologies. 

“But it has become a shared responsibility with customers, and ultimately it is an important governmental responsibility as well.”

Mr Smith said artificial intelligence (AI) and ethics has only recently come into public consciousness as an issue.

“But it has exploded, because people have appreciated how quickly AI is moving forward, and how much it is enabling computers to do,” he said.

“Ultimately the question is not only what computers can do. 

“The bigger question for all of us, especially in every national capital, is what should computers do. 

“That is what the public will need to grapple with, and that is what elected governments especially will need to decide.”  

Mr Smith said accountability is one of the most fundamental questions and issues of our time. 

“We are the first generation of people that it is empowering computers to make decisions that previously could only be made by human beings,” he said. 

“Will we ensure that machines remain accountable to people? 

“Will we ensure that the people who create these machines remain accountable to everyone else? 

“I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the future and future generations are depending on us to get this right. 

“Because if we do not, they are going to have a much harder time cleaning up the mess that will be left in our wake.

“I believe we need to make this century better than the last, and it needs to happen at the places where the democratic countries of the world come together, to make the decisions, to strike the balance that needs to be struck, between the power of technology and the needs of the public, places like Canberra.”