Seven Things Every Company Should Know about Artificial Intelligence and Sustainable Business

Author: Dunstan Allison-Hope, Jacob Park and Michael Rohwer, BSR, Published on: 11 January 2018

"Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing rapidly, thanks to ever-more-powerful computing, massive growth in the availability of digital data, and increasingly sophisticated algorithms...

AI has the potential to bring significant social benefits...AI also brings new social risks, including to non-discrimination (from algorithmic bias), privacy (through the misuse of personal information), child rights (through lack of informed consent), and labor rights (because of the mass displacement of workers by machines).

While by no means exhaustive, we believe the following seven considerations are essential for our members to factor into their AI strategies.

  1. AI is relevant for all industries, not just technology companies. The development of AI today is being driven by Silicon Valley, and it is understandable that private-sector participation in the dialogue about the social implications of AI has been dominated by technology companies. However, it is an urgent priority for companies in other sectors using AI...to understand how AI impacts their business models, employees, and customers.
  2. The human rights and ethics impacts of AI are especially important. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were created to guide the integration of human rights into business decision-making, and should be deliberately applied to the development and deployment of AI. This means asking and addressing questions like “What are the most severe potential impacts?”, “Who are the most vulnerable groups?”, and “How can we ensure access to remedy?” Companies should take a human rights by design approach to AI.
  3. Environmental issues are important, too. While significant attention has been paid to the ethical and human rights implications of AI, we have a tremendous opportunity to embed environmental learning into AI—as Google has done to radically improve the power use effectiveness of its data centers. AI can also be used as an environmental solution—as Microsoft’s AI for Earth commitment demonstrates...
  4. Research, product development, and marketing teams are essential to engage on sustainability...
  5. Companies will need to communicate the complexity of AI in accessible ways...If AI is to fulfil its potential while mitigating accompanying risks, civil society, rights-holders, and vulnerable populations should have access to information about the issues at stake and channels to participate meaningfully in discussions about its application.
  6. Ethics and principles for AI are being developed rapidly, but implementing them in practice will be challenging...Initiatives like Partnership on AI, the Ethics and Governance of AI Fund, and AI Now are embarking on substantial efforts to explore key dilemmas and facilitate dialogue on them...
  7. The future of AI is uncertain, but decisions today can have long-term consequences. Taking responsible approaches to AI will require grappling with rapid change, uncertainty, and complexity..."

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Related companies: Google (part of Alphabet)