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Microsoft's Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella lays out his vision for ethical AI research. (Credit: MIcrosoft)

Taking a page from Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has drawn up six “musts” for the revolution in artificial intelligence that he sees coming, plus four musts for the humans living in the AI age.

Nadella’s deep dive into the philosophical underpinnings of AI research comes as Microsoft is turning its attention toward AI tools with a vigor reminiscent of billionaire co-founder Bill Gates’ pivot to the internet in the mid-1990s. In his own essay, published today online on Slate, Nadella refers not only to Asimov’s laws, but also to Gates’ 1995 “Internet Tidal Wave” memo.

The essay also comes amid a debate over whether AI could pose a “Terminator”-level threat to humanity’s long-term future. Just this week, for example, British physicist Stephen Hawking warned about the rise of an “AI arms race” in autonomous weapons. Over the past month, the White House has been conducting a nation-spanning series of workshops focusing on the promise and potential peril of intelligent machines.

Nadella says humans and machines could work together to address society’s greatest scourges, including disease, ignorance and poverty.

“Doing so, however, requires a bold and ambition approach that goes beyond anything that can be achieved through incremental improvements to current technology,” he writes. “Now is the time for greater coordination and collaboration on AI.”

Nadella lays out the “principles and goals, as an industry and a society, that we should discuss and debate.” Folks who are at all interested in artificial intelligence and its implications should read the whole essay, but here’s the TL;DR version of Nadella’s 10 Laws of AI:

  • AI must be designed to assist humanity.
  • AI must be transparent.
  • AI must maximize efficiencies without destroying the dignity of people.
  • AI must be designed for intelligent privacy.
  • AI needs algorithmic accountability so humans can undo unintended harm.
  • AI must guard against bias.
  • It’s critical for humans to have empathy.
  • It’s critical for humans to have education.
  • The need for human creativity won’t change.
  • A human has to be ultimately accountable for the outcome of a computer-generated diagnosis or decision.

Nadella says experts should track the effects of AI advances on society through efforts such as Stanford University’s One Hundred Year Study, the brainchild of Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz. Nadella acknowledges that the framework for AI research will need to be tweaked in the decades ahead – but the way he sees it, the biggest need is to build the right foundation, right now.

“The most critical next step in our pursuit of AI is to agree on an ethical and empathic framework for its design,” he says.

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