Artificial intelligence (AI) has been in the news of late, not least because of Tesla founder Elon Musk’s dire warning that robots could destroy humanity.
It’s a subject that Martin Mullins picks up on this week, as he references the research he and his colleagues are carrying out in this field at the University of Limerick. A key focus is the application of ethics in AI. In this instance, it relates to automated cars (if a crash is unavoidable, should the car hit a bigger one with four people inside, or a smaller one with three people inside?), but the issue of computers and ethics is more wide-ranging.
The idea of entrusting robots to make ethical decisions is controversial. It sounds terrifying – would they really be able to learn to care for human beings the way that we can? Who would programme the set of ethical choices, who would decide what is right and wrong? Traditionally, we have left complex moral decisions in the hands of a select few, usually politicians and leaders.
But, as Martin points out, in the current political landscape, robots may well do a better job than some elected officials.
“Faced with the choice of Danny Healy Rae or a computer to run the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment I think we might be better off with the machine,” Martin writes. “If things were going wrong at least we could pull out the plug and stop all the noise.” Quite seriously, though, “With Donald Trump in the White House the lure of machines in public office may become irresistible.”
It’s a theme that Joe Haslam continues, in his column from Madrid this week. He refers to security experts, who warn that a conventional war in Europe is now inevitable, as “in geopolitical terms, the world has never been more unstable.” Joe writes of “a generation now in charge that is happy to use nationalism where it suits them for short-term political gain… passions are stoked and alliances broken up by a mediocre bunch who think politics is more The West Wing and less The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Men like Tony Blair and George W. Bush sent hundreds of thousands of troops to war based upon false evidence. They created a deeply destabilised Middle East and we will pay the price for many generations to come. We trusted them to make the right moral choice and they failed. Machines may well be safer, for all of us.
Elsewhere, Darragh Roche interviews Lou McCormack, a passionate LGBT activist, and Greg O Shaughnessy pulls no punches in an opinion piece on the medical consultancy system in Ireland. Brian O’Cadhla dips a toe into the world of hybrid cars and Sharon Slater relays a fascinating tale of one man’s ascent from Famine-stricken Croagh to a life of wealth and prestige in Canada.
In her column this week, Mary O’Keeffe writes about the International 16 Days of Action Opposing Violence Against Women. Backed by the Purple Up Campaign in Limerick, it points out that 216 women have died through violence in Ireland in the last 21 years. That’s an average of ten each year.
Most of those women lost their lives at the hands of people they know, or even once loved. Approximately 300,000 men and women in Ireland have been victims of severe abuse by a partner.
The Government’s TV advertising campaign last year asked us ‘If you witnessed domestic violence, what would you do?’ The answer is, according to the statistics, ‘it depends’: a survey carried out at the time found that 94 per cent of people would help a friend, 65 per cent would help a stranger and 38 per cent would help a neighbour being subjected to domestic abuse.
If only a third of Irish people would help an abused neighbour, a compassionate robot may well have a thing or two to teach us about humanity.