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I’m A Philosopher In A Room Full Of Computer Programmers: Olivia Gambelin, Ethical Intelligence

I’m A Philosopher In A Room Full Of Computer Programmers: Olivia Gambelin, Ethical Intelligence

  • Gambelin is an AI Ethicist who works with entrepreneurs, governments and tech startups to bring ethical analysis into technology development.

At The Rising 2021, the founder of Ethical Intelligence, Olivia Gambelin, shared her insights on the potential use of ethics in developing trusted AI systems and how it can fuel technology innovations. 

Gambelin is an AI Ethicist who works with entrepreneurs, governments and tech startups to bring ethical analysis into technology development. Currently, Olivia leads a remote team of over 30 experts in the tech ethics domain. She believes in enabling human-centric technology innovation. 

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“I am a philosopher in a room full of computer programmers,” said Gambelin. “Though it may seem like I am out of place, this is the kind of situation and atmosphere that I try and put myself in,” she added.

What is ethics? 

“Simply put, ethics is a study of right and wrong,” said Gambelin. For instance, ethics decides who the self-driving car should run over, or ethics decides if a company should hire only male employees. 

She said both computer science and ethics are complementary fields. While computer science was born out of mathematical logic, ethics was born out of critical thinking and critical reasoning. It is just a different branch of logic, she added. 

Gambelin believes ethics is a tool that helps you make the right decisions. “In the business context, ethics brings balanced frameworks and methodologies in place, which allows businesses to come up with the best possible outcomes, both financially and morally.

Does ethics slow technology innovations? 

Most companies and entrepreneurs today think ethics is a roadblock to technology innovations. Gambelin said the decisions taken during the product development cycle are crucial. When overlooked, these decisions leave holes in the product that might come to haunt later. “It is like building a house without a pillar,” she added.

That will eventually lead to more and more technology debt and ethical debt, which will eventually make the house crumble. “It becomes important to take technical and ethical decisions early on so that it does not come back to bite you later on,” she added.

Citing Harvard Business Review, she said:

“Constraints can foster innovation when they represent a motivating challenge and focus efforts on a more narrowly defined way forward.”

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Replacing ‘constraints’ with ‘ethics’ from the above quote, Gambelin explained that ethics brings values into consideration, and pushes the technical limitations. “When you think about ethics, you are not hindering innovation. Instead, you are accelerating it to develop more meaningful solutions by aligning with ethical values and principles of the society,” she added. 

For instance, if a company is planning to develop a messenger app, from a technological perspective, it is solving the communication gap. But, from an ethical point of view, privacy and security of message delivery come into play. “In this case, what you have got is a messenger app that meets technical limitations, but not ethical limitations,” said Gambelin. 

Wrapping up 

Gambelin said the amalgamation of ethics and technology can lead to long term innovation, and ethics needs to be integrated into every step of the process. “At the end of the day, ethics is a decision-making tool that helps block you from making decisions that could turn into the worst possible outcome,” she added.  

“You are only as ethical as your last decision,” said Gambelin. Meaning, the developer or a company should consciously make it a habit to imbibe ethical practices and push themselves in the right direction, leading to long-term innovation and business success. 


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