One Job AI Won’t Replace? Chief Ethics Officer
We’ve heard the warnings: The robots are coming, and they’re coming for your job.
Whose roles will be safe as the usurper, artificial intelligence, enters the workforce? Jeetu Patel, chief product officer at Box (BOX), a cloud storage and file-sharing company, says the secure ones will be those who fine-tune the machines’ moral compasses.
“I think chief ethics officer will be a big role in the AI world,” Patel said at a breakfast roundtable at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. on Tuesday morning. “Lots of jobs will be killed, but ethics jobs will move forward.”
The ways that AI can go awry are well-documented: discriminating against people in ways that are correlated with their demographics, for example. Even Google’s recent Duplex demo, which involved a robot phoning a restaurant to book a reservation, garnered criticism for failing to disclose the caller was a machine, as Aaron Pressman, Fortune senior writer and the roundtable’s moderator, noted.
Wyatt Jenkins, Patreon’s vice president of product, who joined in the discussion, said these issues get particularly tricky when ethics and potential revenue are in opposition. He shared an anecdote about a time when he worked for Hired.com, a jobs marketplace, and he encountered first-hand the pitfalls of unchecked AI.
Hired.com’s search algorithms, which surface possible candidates for recruiters, could exhibit a bias—learned from recruiter preferences—to prioritize people of certain backgrounds. “Candidates from Google and Stanford would always be the first result,” Jenkins said.
“We had to do explicit things to keep it mixed,” Jenkins continued. “We know some of those decisions hurt revenues, because people didn’t get to the result they wanted quickly enough.”
If a company simply prioritizes efficiency, they could end up with results that are not fair and equitable, Jenkins said.
“It’s all about consumer trust and transparency,” said Kris Miller, eBay’s chief strategy officer (EBAY), who says they run AI algorithms on images uploaded to the site in order to show relevant products to buyers.
Where automation will ultimately lead remains to be seen. Christa Quarles, CEO of OpenTable, a restaurant reservation service, said that AI could eventually reach the top ranks of companies. In time to come, executives may find themselves asking, do we need a comptroller? A chief financial officer? Or can the robots handle all that for us?
But, in Patel’s view, there will always be a place for humans on the ethical side. At the close of the session, he added: “Two other jobs I don’t think will go away because of AI: elderly care and child care.”
At least we’ll take care of each other, even if the machines take care of everything else.