The adoption of artificial intelligence in many industries has been regarded by some as a threat to low-skilled workers, as it will drastically cut down reliance on the human workforce.
Besides unemployment, there are also concerns about rising economic inequality caused by AI-driven companies. With fewer employees, these companies would gain a disproportionate advantage than most conventional companies that still depend on normal shift-based systems.
AI bots, for example, have achieved the capability to interact with humans and build relationships through conversations.
This would eventually enable these bots to affect human behaviour and possibly trigger certain actions. Such intelligent machines, however, are not immune to mistakes and confusion, and can be manipulated to fulfil certain ends.
Also, Al cannot be totally expected to be fair and neutral, since it is dependent on human programmers who have their own interests and preferences.
Recent developments have unveiled AI’s ability to recreate image, imitate voice and even generate fake videos of a person, which could be used for fraud. At this level, even voice recognition software can no longer identify such fraud.
Also, its ability to collect huge amount of data without consent, and put humans under surveillance can be a threat to privacy.
Even in cases where AI could potentially eradicate disease or disasters, its approach and method could still cause undesirable consequences that humans may not approve of.
AI raises great security concerns, especially in the form of autonomous cyber-attacks. Even though AI is currently under human control, the growing rate of AI’s ingenuity is exponential. AI experts fear that it might surpass human intelligence and potentially lead to a technological singularity which then becomes a threat to humanity.
Therefore, the problem now is how to programme an AI with morals. The previous “Laws of Robotics”, introduced by Isaac Asimov, would not be enough since there are more tricky questions about what counts as ethical.
It will be difficult to answer questions such as, “Should a self-driving car just hit another person to save the driver?” or “Is it allowed to programme military robots to kill a terrorist?” or “Should a trading bot inform everyone of a predicted disaster, or just keep it a secret?”.
An AI framework that can take into account human desires, goals, preferences and ethical codes is indispensable. Currently, the AI framework that adopts “reinforcement learning” is extensively studied and developed by some researchers to ensure that artificial agents act ethically.
More work is still in progress to improve this technology of ethics.
Besides, to ensure that the rise of AI in all industries is advantageous, we need to have an ethical code for the AI that does not compromise humankind’s potential and its survival.
Recently, the United Kingdom government published a report —AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?—in which five core principles are outlined. The first principle proposed that AI should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity. The second dictates that AI operates within parameters of intelligibility and fairness. Third, AI should not be used to lessen the privacy or data right of individuals, families or communities. Fourth, all people should have the right to be educated and flourish alongside artificial intelligence. The fifth principle opposes the use of AI as killer robots with the autonomy to hurt, destroy or deceive humans.
The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, for instance, has launched a crowd-sourced global treatise entitled, “Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritising Human Wellbeing with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems”.
The report takes into account various well-established “classical ethics”, including religious-and-culture-based ethical systems.
As the global community continues to work together on the ethics of AI, there are still vast opportunities to offer ethical inputs, including the ethical principles based on Islamic teachings.
This is in line with Islam’s encouragement for its believers to convey beneficial messages, including to share its ethical principles with society.
In Islam, ethics or akhlak (virtuous character traits) in Arabic, is sometimes employed interchangeably in the Arabic language with adab, which means the manner, attitude, behaviour, and etiquette of putting things in their proper places. Islamic ethics cover all the legal concepts ranging from syariah (Islamic law), fiqh ( jurisprudence), qanun (ordinance), and ‘urf (customary practices).
Adopting and applying moral values based on the Islamic ethical concept or applied Islamic ethics could be a way to address various issues in today’s societies.
At the same time, this approach is in line with the higher objectives of syariah (maqasid alsyariah) that is aimed at conserving human benefit by the protection of human values, including faith (hifz al-din), life (hifz alnafs), lineage (hifz al-nasl), intellect (hifz al-‘aql), and property (hifz al-mal). This approach could be very helpful to address contemporary issues, including those related to the rise of AI and intelligent robots.
As there are so many ethical questions in the age of AI, we need to discuss and address the issues by taking into account various perspectives from different disciplines.
It is hoped that, through this approach, both scientists and religious scholars would work together to address all the issues in harmony, and put an end to the existing practice of separation where scientists and religious scholars operate in two separate universes
Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 30 November 2018
Currently, intelligent robots face a public acceptance issue as some people consider them as job thieves. However, what makes it worse is the action of irresponsible individuals who vandalise the robots and leave them broken.
Scientists and legal right activists have come out with several suggestions to draft a set of laws to protect robots, at least as a property of its owner. At the same time, the necessity of the law to protect humans from the harmful acts of robots has to be prioritised, as proposed by Isaac Asimov in the Law of Robotics.
These measures are in line with the objectives of Islamic Law (Maqasid al-Syariah) to protect the human benefits (masalih) and welfare. In this case, two of the essentials of Maqasid al-Syariah need to be highlighted, namely the protection of life (hifz alnafs) and the protection of wealth or property (hifz almal).
If the intelligent robot is to be regarded as an object under human possession and responsibility, then it would bring into the picture the Islamic concept of ownership and accountability. To safeguard a property means to protect it from damage, harm, theft, exploitation, or injustice. This means any property, including robots, owned by humans is protected by property laws.
The suggestion to create “robot rights” in this case is favourable as it will give a chance for robots to stay safe and protected in many ways. At the same time, it will also promote the protection of human property (hifz almal) from the action of irresponsible persons or group of persons.
On the other hand, the person or group of persons in charge of the robot is obliged to bear responsibility, in case of violation. The second caliph, Umar al-Khattab, during his reign had shown in his judgement an important aspect of accountability of the owner.
There was a case where a slave stole food for which he was not punished. Instead, the caliph took his master to task for his failure to provide enough subsistence to satisfy the slave’s needs. Consequently, his master had to pay double the amount stolen by the slave as a punishment. This story showed fair and good judgement by the ruler or the government, which emphasises the accountability of the owner for what they own.
There is also a lesson one can learn from a historical event mentioned in the Quran related to the ruling on the destruction of property during the time of Prophet Daud, and Prophet Sulaiman. There was a case where sheep owned by certain individuals had destroyed crops belonged to another group of people. Prophet Sulaiman ruled that the owner of the sheep was obliged to pay compensation in kind until the field was restored to its former state (al-Anbiya 21:28).
At the same time, he also took into account the loss of benefits while waiting for the field to be restored. A similar approach might be applied to the robots in case of violation.
In order to protect human life and property from the loss caused by a robot, the owner of the robot must take full responsibility to pay compensation if applicable. If the recovery or return process takes some time, then additional compensation must be included to cover the loss of benefits during this period.
More specifically, the criterion of bearing rights and duties in Islamic law is legal capacity (ahliyyah), and it is possessed by the human person who can understand the meaning of responsibility.
A question then arises as to the time when ahliyyah is vested in a human being, to which the Muslim jurists have responded that the starting point of ahliyyah is as of the time when a foetus possesses life.
Yet, an unborn foetus has only a receptive legal capacity (ahliyyah al-wujub) in that it can receive a right but cannot bear an obligation. An unborn foetus, for example, can receive inheritance. It thus appears that life itself is the criterion of ahliyyah.
When this test is applied, it would appear that a robot does not possess ahliyyah. But, since robots can do an act that may bring benefit or loss, like the an imals, the most one can say legally is to equate it with an animal.
Liability for loss is, therefore, ascribed to the owner or manufacturer of the robot. But, this may still be subjected to further development in technology — hence, a tentative opinion.
The issues of legal rights involving both human and robot are not limited to the examples mentioned above. We need more suggestions and appropriate approaches that favour both human and intelligent robot to have suitable legal rights that could harmonise their interaction.
The Islamic concepts of ownership, accountability, protection of life and protection of property may provide important indicators to guide future research to develop a suitable legal rights framework for robots.
However, the construction of this framework should not be limited to these concepts, but remain open to other beneficial concepts that could further strengthen it. More research may be needed as the technological advancement is rapidly evolving.
Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 3 August 2018
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