What Kind of Ethical Constitution Do We Need at the Heart of AI Systems?

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As generative AI evolves and its potential for misuse grows, the urgency for effective AI regulation becomes more apparent — and conversations about ethics need to happen.

The critical question that arises is whether the governance of artificial intelligence (AI) should be in the hands of a few corporations from specific world regions, each with their unique set of values.

For instance, can the values guiding generative AI in a Western company be relevant for individuals in an Eastern country? Or vice versa?

Key Takeaways

  • In the world of AI, there is a concern about reinforcing biases and how to instill ‘values’ within machine learning models.
  • But how do we decide those values? How do we consider the different, often conflicting, value systems across the world?
  • Anthropic’s Collective Constitutional AI (CCAI) initiative is one pathway, testing AI models and involving the public in shaping AI’s ethical guidelines.
  • By engaging diverse perspectives, the hope is to mitigate biases, enhance transparency, and foster trust in AI technologies.

A primary ethical issue is the risk of AI reinforcing existing biases. Drawing learnings from historical data, algorithms can inadvertently mirror and amplify biases within that data. This problem is notably acute in technologies like facial recognition, where errors have been shown to disproportionately impact specific demographic groups.

Furthermore, the challenge of aligning AI’s benefits with ethical considerations is paramount. AI systems, including advanced generative models like ChatGPT, can generate misleading or harmful content, especially in delicate scenarios.

This underscores the necessity for robust ethical frameworks and regulatory oversight in AI development, ensuring that AI systems are both beneficial and ethical.


Collective Constitutional AI (CCAI)

Companies like Anthropic, which recently unveiled AI assistant Claude 2.1, are looking at democratizing AI ethics by including a wider public demographic, reaching beyond their organizational boundaries.

Anthropic has initiated a crowd-sourced experiment called Collective Constitutional AI (CCAI), which aims to create an AI system that allows individuals to articulate and shape the societal values and ethical standards they expect AI to adhere to.

The initiative seeks to harmonize AI’s growing capabilities with the diverse values and ethical norms of individuals and communities worldwide.

A ‘constitution’ in AI refers to essential guidelines that govern AI behavior, decision-making, and interaction with humans and the environment. Constitutional AI (CAI) involves creating AI systems regulated by a set of principles outlined in a constitution. The goal is to ensure AI operates ethically, respects human rights, and aligns with societal norms.

Building on the foundation of their initial CAI, Anthropic is now focusing on expanding the influence of their constitution to include a broader spectrum of public opinion.

The primary objective is to democratize the AI constitution-making process, ensuring it encompasses a variety of values and viewpoints.

This project is a novel experiment designed to engage the public in the constitution-drafting process. Through this initiative, around 1,000 Americans were invited to jointly develop an AI constitution via the online platform Polis.

Anthropic has also developed an initial AI constitution drawing inspiration from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They designed a method to manage Claude based on this constitution.

Outcome of Experiments on CCAI

The experiments on CCAI by Anthropic tested two Claude models, the “Public” (aligned with the public CCAI constitution) and the “Standard” (aligned with the Anthropic-written constitution), which both have similar performance in language and math tasks. Both models were equally effective and safe based on user feedback and Elo scores.

Notably, the public model, designed with CCAI in mind, demonstrated less bias across nine social dimensions (BBQ evaluation). While both models shared similar political ideologies (OpinionQA evaluation), a more diverse and larger sample for the CCAI constitution may lead to different political ideologies.

This is just one experiment by one alliance, but it shows how important embedding some form of value system at the heart of AI is — the question might be: “Which value system, decided by who?”

Challenges and Opportunities of Democratization of AI Ethics

The CCAI experiment highlights the challenges and potential benefits of democratizing AI ethics.

Key challenges involve navigating cultural diversity, ensuring inclusivity, and achieving a consensus among various viewpoints without neglecting any groups. Integrating public feedback into the development of AI also presents a significant challenge.

On the other hand, democratizing AI ethics offers several advantages. It can enhance transparency and ethical integrity in AI technologies. Involving diverse perspectives can lead to more ethically sound AI, reducing biases and improving societal benefits.

Engaging the public in AI ethics can also help demystify AI technologies, fostering trust.

Furthermore, the democratization process can potentially transform AI governance, advocating for a cooperative approach characterized by transparency and accountability.

As AI systems grow in complexity and influence, establishing robust governance structures becomes increasingly important.

Technology leaders, government officials, and the public all play vital roles in shaping the future of AI, and the hope is that technology leaders embrace the principles of democratized AI ethics for responsible innovation and that governments formulate policies that ensure the safe and ethical development of AI, encouraging public involvement in AI governance decisions.

The Bottom Line

The concept of democratizing AI ethics through initiatives like Anthropic’s Collective Constitutional AI (CCAI) is a conversation that needs to happen.

It shifts the focus from exclusive corporate control to a more inclusive, public-driven model, enabling individuals and communities to directly contribute to the ethical framework that guides AI systems.


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Dr. Tehseen Zia
Tenured Associate Professor
Dr. Tehseen Zia
Tenured Associate Professor

Dr. Tehseen Zia has Doctorate and more than 10 years of post-Doctorate research experience in Artificial Intelligence (AI). He is Tenured Associate Professor and leads AI research at Comsats University Islamabad, and co-principle investigator in National Center of Artificial Intelligence Pakistan. In the past, he has worked as research consultant on European Union funded AI project Dream4cars.