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Thursday, June 6, 2024

The Ethics of Advanced AI Assistants

Gabriel, I., Manzini, A., et al. (2024).
Google Deep Mind

This paper focuses on the opportunities and the ethical and societal risks posed by advanced AI assistants. We define advanced AI assistants as artificial agents with natural language interfaces, whose function is to plan and execute sequences of actions on behalf of a user – across one or more domains – in line with the user’s expectations. The paper starts by considering the technology itself, providing an overview of AI assistants, their technical foundations and potential range of applications. It then explores questions around AI value alignment, well-being, safety and malicious uses. Extending the circle of inquiry further, we next consider the relationship between advanced AI assistants and individual users in more detail, exploring topics such as manipulation and persuasion, anthropomorphism, appropriate relationships, trust and privacy. With this analysis in place, we consider the deployment of advanced assistants at a societal scale, focusing on cooperation, equity and access, misinformation, economic impact, the environment and how best to evaluate advanced AI assistants. Finally, we conclude by providing a range of recommendations for researchers, developers, policymakers and public stakeholders.

Our analysis suggests that advanced AI assistants are likely to have a profound impact on our individual and collective lives. To be beneficial and value-aligned, we argue that assistants must be appropriately responsive to the competing claims and needs of users, developers and society. Features such as increased agency, the capacity to interact in natural language and high degrees of personalisation could make AI assistants especially helpful to users. However, these features also make people vulnerable to inappropriate influence by the technology, so robust safeguards are needed. Moreover, when AI assistants are deployed at scale, knock-on effects that arise from interaction between them and questions about their overall impact on wider institutions and social processes rise to the fore. These dynamics likely require technical and policy interventions in order to foster beneficial cooperation and to achieve broad, inclusive and equitable outcomes. Finally, given that the current landscape of AI evaluation focuses primarily on the technical components of AI systems, it is important to invest in the holistic sociotechnical evaluations of AI assistants, including human–AI interaction, multi-agent and societal level research, to support responsible decision-making and deployment in this domain.

Here are some summary thoughts:

The development of increasingly advanced AI assistants represents a significant technological shift, moving beyond narrow AI for specific tasks to general-purpose foundation models that enable greater autonomy and scope.

These advanced AI assistants can provide novel services (like summarization, ideation, planning, and tool use), with the potential to become deeply integrated into our economic, social, and personal lives.

Ethical and Societal Implications

Profound Impact Potential: AI assistants could radically alter work, education, creativity, communication, and how we make decisions about our lives and goals.

Safety, Alignment, and Misuse: The autonomy of AI assistants presents challenges around safety, ensuring alignment with user intentions, and potential for misuse.

Human-Assistant Interactions: Issues around trust, privacy, anthropomorphism, and the moral limits of personalization need to be considered.

Social Impacts: AI assistants could affect the distribution of benefits and burdens in society, as well as how humans cooperate and coordinate.

Evaluation Challenges: New methodologies are needed to evaluate AI assistants as part of a broader sociotechnical system, beyond just model performance.

Responsible Development: Ongoing research, policy work, and public discussion are required to address the novel normative and technical challenges posed by advanced AI assistants.

Concluding Thoughts

The development of advanced AI assistants represents a transformative technological shift, and the choices we make now will shape their future path. Coordinated efforts across researchers, developers, policymakers, and the public are needed to ensure these assistants are developed responsibly and in the public interest.