Carnegie Mellon to Study Ethical Issues in Smart Tech, Robotics

A $10 million gift to Carnegie Mellon will establish the K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies and focus on robo- and artificial-intelligence ethics.

by David Templeton / November 7, 2016

(TNS) -- Current law doesn’t yet specify who’s at fault should a driverless car crash cause human injury. Ethical issues, for now, also remain unresolved over the use and consequences of smart weaponry.

And the list continues: How should society react to ever more people losing their jobs to robots? And should we tolerate computer monitoring of human communication, be it email, phone calls or even open dialog?

Moral principles long have guided interactions and behavior on multiple human levels and those ethics have extended to animals, nature and the entire planet. But a modern-day moral quandary involves human interaction with machines — and particularly the smart ones.

Those issues, known as robo-ethics and artificial-intelligence ethics, will command even greater attention at Carnegie Mellon University with a $10 million gift from K&L Gates LLP, a global law firm based in Pittsburgh, to establish the K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies at the university.

Carnegie Mellon president Subra Suresh said two endowed academic positions — one for a senior researcher and another for a junior professor — will be established with the gift, along with three doctoral student fellowships. It also will allow CMU to sponsor a biennial conference on artificial-intelligence ethics to encourage and share research and promote education to help policymakers deal with the complex issues of AI ethics.

The money also will fund a student scholarship and commencement prize.

The recent White House Frontiers Conference held at CMU and the University of Pittsburgh, with President Barack Obama as keynote speaker, focused attention on CMU’s work in ethics policy and regulation, all in light of daily advances in smart machine technology and its impact on human lives and activities.

The gift is expected “to propel our momentum in this critical work,” Mr. Suresh, who holds a doctorate in science, said in an interview last week. “The president coming here for the third time while in office to one university caught the attention of everyone, and not just here but overseas.”

The visibility of Pittsburgh was “quite remarkable” with the audience including “a lot of the top leaders from across the country,” he said.

Many CMU faculty members already “are interested in this great intellectual pursuit,” said Mr. Suresh, noting research and policy development already underway in various departments including engineering, computer science, public policy and the social sciences.

“It is not just technology that will determine how this century unfolds,” Mr. Suresh said in a statement. “Our future will also be influenced strongly by how humans interact with technology, how we foresee and respond to the unintended consequences of our work, and how we ensure that technology is used to benefit humanity, individually and as a society.”

The endowment will “support scientific and scholarly research and education about ethical and policy issues that arise from advances in artificial intelligence and other computational technologies,” according to a K&L statement. The firm did not make anyone available to comment.

In the statement, Peter J. Kalis, K&L Gates chairman and global managing partner, described the mission to “define the ethical boundaries surrounding the emergence of artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge computational technologies.”

“I am extraordinarily proud that K&L Gates is making this major investment in CMU, a global leader in computational technologies,” he said.

©2016 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.