The ethics of Machine Learning: Just because we ‘can’ doesn’t mean we ‘should’

Richard Pilling considers the ethical responsibilities of delivering Machine Learning solutions and suggests that the immense possibilities opened up by ML should always be tempered with an understanding of potential consequences.

I was lucky to grow up in the 80s as the youngest of three children – a happy time of riding around on my Raleigh Grifter, watching Knight Rider, and playing on my Commodore 64. My

mum had a totemic and often repeated phrase of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” – which has always stuck with me; it was part of my mum teaching me right from wrong. It’s no surprise she went on to have a career as a social worker; helping disadvantaged children find safety, peace of mind, and good families. She instilled in them the same strong ethics as she taught me. At that time my dad was the head of Quality Assurance for a multinational, had helped invent Astroturf, and went on to write what would become ISO 9001. In essence, my upbringing was heavily influenced by a strong sense of ethics and a deep understanding of the value of innovation, and quality.

The Machine Learning revolution

We’re on the cusp of a worldwide revolution in Machine Learning – a wonderful set of tools and technologies, which have huge potential to either make the world a better place or further divide it. There’s always an ethical side to any new and potentially market-changing technology. However, unlike previous industrial revolutions, machine learning is focused on the ‘why’ of things, rather than the ‘how’ – or to phrase it another way: for the first time we’re inventing a better thinker, rather than a better ‘do-er’.

Companies have the ability to make systems that will fundamentally transform billions of lives,  all at the click of a button. Consider areas such as lack of transparency in decision making, unconscious bias, the law of unintended consequences – all to rain down upon millions and millions of unsuspecting people – the impact on society is, and will increasingly be huge.

Decisions framed as unbiased and data-based are still decisions based on what the machines have been taught from humans. We are responsible for determining what defines a “good” outcome, although it may not be a universally positive result. It’s more likely that these decisions are only useful in certain contexts and not others.

The machine, or its algorithms, does not have a sense of right or wrong as naturally have. We have a moral sense, that machines cannot learn (at least for the foreseeable future), as it’s making all decisions on data and acts as it’s told to do. It’s crucial to understand how these systems make decisions, to know why they’re being made.

There are some types of machine learning or certain algorithm classes that are more transparent than others. Some people are specifically making algorithms that are designed to be transparent so you can follow and expand on the thought process. A system that recommends, not makes, decisions and is able to explain them will be of great help across many industries.

I want to make sure that we’re not being too negative about machine learning. It is a really useful set of tools and technologies. It’s just, at the end of the day the fool with a tool is still a fool, just quicker.

Machine learning can build a bright future for us – but I’d like any singularity which may happen to be an inclusive benevolent one, rather than a nightmarish world of an all-knowing BigBrother. If you’re running at the pace of innovation, and it’s making you run as fast as you can, you need to stop and check that you do the right thing.

The time to think about this is now, before the cat is fully out of the bag.

Tech companies need to deeply consider the effects of their work – their role is to advise and help companies on the use of innovative technologies and make sure they don’t fall down a rabbit hole or ride too far on the hype-train. It’s a moral imperative to look at the ethical side of any technology, as well as its potential business value. The impact of machine learning is a topic that garners much attention, and this conversation mirrors the tenets of my upbringing: innovation, quality, ethics.

I have the good fortune to, at times, mentor bright-eyed newcomers to the world of big data and ML. I advise them to envisage the future ramifications of their work, and I often think to myself, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!

Some things are best left to human beings…

I’d like my children to have as free and as happy a childhood as I did, discovering things rather than having an algorithm recommend them – as that can lead to an echo chamber. In this case, we should remember that some things are best left to humans. When growing up, my sisters gave me a love of music – especially 70’s disco and 80’s new-romantics. While I’m sure a streaming service algorithm could have led me that way eventually – I’m certain that the music wouldn’t mean anywhere near as much to me!

There are clearly thousands of use cases where ML can help optimise our experiences. However, let’s not forget the need for a ‘human’ element to enrich those experiences.


Original post:

60 comentários em “The ethics of Machine Learning: Just because we ‘can’ doesn’t mean we ‘should’

  1. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I
    have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing
    to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  2. Wow, incredible blog structure! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made running a blog glance easy. The overall glance of
    your website is wonderful, let alone the content!

  3. I’ve been exploring for a bit for any high quality articles or
    weblog posts in this sort of space . Exploring in Yahoo I ultimately
    stumbled upon this website. Reading this information So i’m happy to convey that
    I’ve an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed.
    I most surely will make sure to don?t put out of your
    mind this site and give it a glance regularly.

  4. Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m
    impressed! Extremely helpful information specifically the last
    part 🙂 I care for such information much. I was seeking this particular information for
    a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  5. I’m the business owner of JustCBD brand ( and I’m presently looking to broaden my wholesale side of company. It would be great if anybody at targetdomain can help me . I thought that the most effective way to accomplish this would be to reach out to vape shops and cbd stores. I was really hoping if anyone could recommend a trustworthy website where I can get Vape Shop Business Marketing Data I am presently checking out, and On the fence which one would be the best choice and would appreciate any support on this. Or would it be much simpler for me to scrape my own leads? Ideas?

  6. I am the co-founder of JustCBD label ( and am aiming to develop my wholesale side of company. I really hope that someone at targetdomain share some guidance ! I considered that the very best way to accomplish this would be to reach out to vape stores and cbd retail stores. I was really hoping if anybody at all could suggest a trustworthy web-site where I can buy CBD Shops Business Data I am presently reviewing, and Not exactly sure which one would be the very best selection and would appreciate any guidance on this. Or would it be easier for me to scrape my own leads? Suggestions?

  7. Hey there! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established
    blog. Is it very difficult to set up your own blog?
    I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick.

    I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any points or suggestions?
    Many thanks

  8. What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It absolutely helpful and it has helped me out loads.

    I’m hoping to give a contribution & assist different users like its aided me.
    Good job.

  9. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who was doing a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me dinner due to the fact that I discovered it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this topic here on your website.

  10. I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your content. Your article has truly peaked my interest. I am going to bookmark your blog and keep checking for new details about once a week. I opted in for your Feed too.

  11. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to make a very good article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

  12. After I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox
    and now every time a comment is added I receive four emails with the exact same comment.
    There has to be a way you are able to remove me from that
    service? Appreciate it!

  13. Hey there, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues.

    When I look at your blog in Opera, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer,
    it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give
    you a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic blog!

  14. Hey! This is kind of off topic but I need some guidance from an established
    blog. Is it difficult to set up your own blog?

    I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick.
    I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you
    have any tips or suggestions? Thanks

  15. After looking into a number of the blog posts on your website, I really appreciate your technique of writing a blog. I book marked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my website as well and let me know how you feel.

  16. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be useful to read through content from other writers and practice something from other web sites.

  17. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited this website before but after browsing through a few of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m certainly pleased I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!

  18. Right here is the perfect website for everyone who wishes to find out about this topic. You understand so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a topic that’s been written about for decades. Excellent stuff, just great!

  19. Aw, this was an exceptionally good post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to make a great article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and never seem to get anything done.

  20. I’m excited to uncover this site. I wanted to thank you for your time just for this fantastic read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it and i also have you saved as a favorite to check out new information on your website.

  21. Achieving your fitness goals does not need a certified personal trainer or an expensive gym memberships, it is not hard to exercise at home. It’s easy to go down a training and fitness rabbit hole, however, when you’re looking for the best home exercise equipment to outfit your personal home gym.

  22. After exploring a handful of the articles on your site, I truly like your technique of blogging. I book marked it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my web site too and let me know your opinion.

  23. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day. It’s always interesting to read through content from other authors and use something from their websites.

  24. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew
    of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest
    twitter updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping
    maybe you would have some experience with something like this.
    Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy
    reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.
    32hvAj4 cheap flights

  25. I seriously love your site.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you create this web site yourself? Please reply back as I’m attempting to create my own personal website and want to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Kudos!

  26. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of
    this blog. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very hard to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual
    appeal. I must say you have done a amazing job with this.
    In addition, the blog loads extremely fast for me on Opera.
    Outstanding Blog! cheap flights 3gqLYTc

  27. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Many thanks, However I am experiencing difficulties with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone else having identical RSS problems? Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  28. After exploring a handful of the blog articles on your website, I honestly appreciate your way of blogging. I added it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my web site as well and tell me your opinion.

  29. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Many thanks, However I am encountering troubles with your RSS. I don’t know why I cannot join it. Is there anybody having the same RSS issues? Anyone who knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  30. You made some decent points there. I looked on the net for additional information about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this site.

  31. I was very happy to find this website. I need to to thank you for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely liked every little bit of it and i also have you bookmarked to see new stuff in your site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *