The tone and tenor surrounding artificial intelligence has largely shifted from job-stealing to job creation. The technology will indeed yield new roles, plenty in fact. The question is what kinds of jobs. One of the newest and most important positions to come out of the AI revolution will be ethicist—part gatekeeper, part philosopher.
The AI ethicist’s main function will be to ask deep questions—think of Jeff Goldblum’s mathematician character in Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm. He believes that the creators of a dinosaur theme park have not taken the time to fully think through what they have just done.
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” Goldblum said in an iconic scene.
AI ethicists will focus on the “should.”
WHY THE ROLE IS IMPORTANT
- It will have a clear remit to ensure AI usage is not just ethical, but defensible, explainable, and auditable.
- As with any technology in its infancy, guardrails will be needed. Rules exist for drug discovery, food safety, transportation, and other industries. The AI buck will stop with the ethicist.
- AI is still largely misunderstood. An expert who can advise, educate, and ensure safe practices could foster goodwill.
BUILDING TRUST IN AI
Skepticism about businesses’ responsible use of AI is high, a poll found. This contrasts with CEOs who are fully on board with the technology, and even feel the need to act with a sense of urgency, fearful competitors will have an advantage.
That disconnect between public skittishness and CEO optimism could be bridged by having an ethicist on staff calling balls and strikes fairly and consistently. With the next generation of business leaders being schooled in AI, the technology is here to stay. Ethicists can be integral in building trust.
They already exist in health care. Medical ethicists, for example, may help families and physicians decide on treatment. A safety engineer determines when a new building or bridge is safe. These examples present challenges and risks that have the potential for harm and discrimination and may be just as critical to sustaining a meaningful life.
This is the importance of understanding the ethical implications of AI.
ELEVATING TO THE C-SUITE
Companies using AI will come to see ethicists as vital to the business, making it one of the most sought-after jobs next year. It will eventually become so important that it may rise to a C-suite position, but it won’t start out that way. Nor should it because more time is needed to understand the role’s scope of responsibilities.
Until this new, independent role is elevated to the C-suite, it will likely report into the chief operating officer because it impacts operations.
The legal department, however, will most likely not be the best place on the corporate org chart because an ethicist can’t be a free thinker when pressed to legally defend AI. Nor should the role be left in the hands of the chief information or chief technology officers. They’re going to make AI decisions based on their responsibilities, which may not be in the best interest of the organization or humans in general.
Where does an ethicist’s allegiance lie? Is it to the organization, or to the people who are being protected? That question comes up a fair amount. Ethicists should align themselves to what’s in the best interest of humanity.
However, we know that there are going to be other influences to bear in organizations. OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, for example, has said his hope is that AI will have roughly the same intelligence as a “median human that you could hire as a co-worker.” It would seem his allegiance is to the technology.
A counterpoint would be that we need someone with the authority and the decision-making power in organizations to ensure that that goal of keeping humans in the loop is actually met. That would align with some of the regulatory stances in the United States and Europe around human involvement.
EMERGING JOBS IN AI
The next roles likely to emerge in importance after ethicist are AI curator and human-AI managers.
Ethicists and curators could work together in the same organization with differing but connected responsibilities. The curator role becomes incredibly important when it comes to the tactical use of AI.
Think of AI as standing for automation and intelligence. “Artificial intelligence” isn’t an accurate definition anymore because it sounds ethereal. It’s not. It’s actually more practical. Automation and intelligence is a better representation of what AI really means. Human resources recruiters, for example, use AI to efficiently handle repetitive tasks such as interview scheduling.
When you think about it that way, it becomes clear there are going to be roles in automation. That’s the domain of the curator. It is about combining automation and intelligence into one to perform a valuable function at scale for organizations.
As AI becomes an integral component of high-performing teams, there is a necessity for managers to comprehend and navigate matrixed organizations which encompass significant AI elements. Given the magnitude of AI’s contribution, a human-AI manager is an indispensable team member.
A decade ago, few had ever heard of an influencer. Now, most organizations wouldn’t think of doing business without one. Such will be the case with ethicist, curator, and a host of other roles specifically created by and for AI.
Cliff Jurkiewicz is the vice president of Global Strategy at Phenom.