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In What Ways Could Artificial Intelligence Be Leveraged To Cause Harm?
Source: Quora Contributor

In what ways is artificial intelligence leveraged to harm people? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Suzanne Sadedin, evolutionary biologist, on Quora:

Currently most AI is used for purposes that are either beneficial to people, or not actively harmful. But any powerful tool can be abused, and we should expect increasing weaponization of AI. Here are some areas of concern:

Social manipulation: Companies and organizations use big data to spread propaganda, influence elections and foment social discord via targeted marketing. Political actors like Cambridge Analytica and the Internet Research Agency have been prominent in this. To what extent they relied on AI versus good old-fashioned multivariate analysis isn’t entirely clear, but certainly their ad targeting leveraged Facebook’s ML to slice and dice the population. (And I’m sure they weren’t inspired in the least by Facebook’s 2014 research on how they could make people miserable by manipulating their Facebook feed. Which, if you combine it with their 2012 research on manipulating voter turnout basically looks like a giant banner reading ‘HEY ASPIRING DICTATORS, WANNA GET DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED?’)

Social oppression: Ubiquitous surveillance, beyond the wildest dreams of history’s despots, is suddenly entirely feasible. With facial recognition, we can monitor your every move in real life as well as online. Of course, this is so stupidly dystopian no society would actually do it… oh, except for China’s expanding “social credit” system. But that couldn’t happen in the US… right? I’m sure Apple really needs to monitor your call and email activity to assign you a 'trust score'. For reasons.

Consumerism: This one’s more ethically dubious than outright harmful. Machine learning on big data is used to target those who can be emotionally manipulated into spending without regard for their welfare. As Jeff Hammerbacher said, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” Imagine what those people could achieve if we instead rewarded them for, say, cancer research. But that’s not nearly as lucrative as knowing which cat video you’d rather watch. (To be fair though, some of the money from ad clicks does go to cancer research and other philanthropic projects that happen to receive the whimsical blessings of the tech gods.)

Discrimination: The lovely people at insurance companies all want to make sure you pay the minimum premium possible, and in order to do that, they need to ruthlessly exclude anyone who might actually need their coverage. Machine learning helps them identify these people in advance. Oh, and if you like your privacy, don’t worry, your health insurance company wouldn’t dream of forcing you to share data from the fitness program they already forced you to join. They’ll just offer you a nice discount if you choose to.

Military intelligence: Please go read Palantir’s marketing. How lucky that they’re here to ‘save the Shire’? Let’s just hope the person holding the crystal ball is Aragorn, not Pippin — or Saruman.

Autonomous weapons: If you can make a decent self-driving car, you’re not far from making a decent self-driving tank, self-driving drone (edit: these already exist — see comments by Naomi Lauren and Roger Willcocks on the original question) or self-driving bomb. And if you can autonomously target humans or other interesting objects… then you don’t need human agreement to kill humans. Of course I’m not talking about Google’s role in Project Maven, they were teaching military drones to target people purely to help them. Everyone loves a helpful military drone, right?

This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

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