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The market only accepts bunches of 5 perfect bananas. 50% of the mini bananas in Costa Rica go to waste (source: private)

Getting to the root of food waste in bananas

The food waste of bananas created by consumers is only the tip of the iceberg. Even more waste is created at the farm level, where up to 40% of bananas are put to waste. The high percentage of waste at farm level puts an additional strain on the cost/income ratio of farmers.

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Robin Hood (the Sherwood Forest version) would be disappointed by his Silicon Valley-Wallstreet namesake. (Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash)

Robinhood: democratized finance on shaky ground

More than 900 years after the heroic figure Robin Hood set out to steal from the rich and give to the poor, two American entrepreneurs borrowed his name to establish a fintech company that claims to “democratize finance for all”. But the new Robinhood’s claim of ‘democracy’ is on shaky ground. Just as the company can make financial markets accessible to everyone, it can also deny access within a split second. This is what happened when they shut down Gamestop trading on January 28, 2021. Thousands of investors were presented with a fait accompli.

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Citizens voting at the ‘Landsgemeinde’ in Glarus (CH); one of the most archaic types of democracy; no traces of AI (source: private, 2017).

No, we don’t want to ‘democratize’ AI

The talk about democratizing AI is a clever marketing move. Democracy is an inherently positive term. By suggesting that AI is in everyone’s interest, it is not far off from framing AI as a basic need. But let’s not be fooled: AI is not a basic need. It is a tool, that is, a means to an end, that must be measured by its contribution to human flourishing.

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Did someone light a cigarette? Now there is AI preventing that. (source: private, in Nevada, US, 2003)

Four reasons why hyping AI is an ethical problem

Hyping AI creates ethical challenges on top of the existing ones. Here is how:
1. AI hype does not question the very purpose of AI.
2. AI hype is linked to misleading promises.
3. AI hype directs energy at something that is barely tangible.
4. AI hype exaggerates the capabilities of AI when effectively humans are still doing most of the work.

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Not a viable solution to facial recognition (source: private).

Opposing facial recognition: why focusing on accuracy misses the point

Facial recognition has come under massive scrutiny. Approaches to using it are quite divided. While China uses the technology routinely and extensively in order to surveil their citizens’ everyday life; San Francisco, notably the ‘home territory’ of those companies driving the development of this type of technology, has banned it last spring.

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Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Linking digitalization to ethics: a simple outline of some foundations

It shouldn’t take a scandal of the dimensions achieved by Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica to make it clear that we must not use technology blindly without asking ourselves some ethical questions, but incidents like these certainly help to raise awareness on an ever broader scale. Yet, despite an increasing amount of articles calling for integrating ethics into algorithms, it often remains unclear what is effectively meant by ethics. I outline in clear and simple terms how ethics can provide guidance when deciding whether we should adopt digital technologies.

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San Francisco, home of OpenAI. Photo by Hardik Pandya on Unsplash

Why AI really needs social scientists

OpenAI states that in order to assure a rigorous design and implementation of this experiment, they need social scientists from a variety of disciplines. The title immediately caught my attention given that the kind of “AI ethics” I am dealing with hinges on an interdisciplinary approach to AI. So, I sat down and spent a couple of hours to read through the whole paper.

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Protest against US President Trump in Washington D.C. Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

Algorithmic decision-making and social division

Reading a report on “Discrimination, Artificial Intelligence and Algorithmic Decision-Making”, I wondered to what degree algorithmic decision-making could serve to further exacerbate discrimination in already deeply divided societies. If we want AI in general and algorithmic decision-making in particular to flourish and to contribute to the common good rather than promote or exacerbate division, we need to work towards creating societies where all members have genuine freedom and equal opportunities in their choice of lifestyles and identities regardless of their protected characteristics.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

What makes AI ethicists “the top hire companies need to succeed”?

KPMG ranked “AI ethicist” as one of the “top 5 AI hires companies need to succeed in 2019”. That’s good news for an ‘old business ethicist’ like me. However, there is no common understanding whether we need AI ethicists in the first place, and whether creating such a profile inevitably leads to “machinewashing”. I address these concerns and argue what it takes to really make AI ethicists a top hire.

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Banana truck at a Chiquita plantation near La Lima (HON) (source: private picture).

The costs of lowering social standards

In 2014 Chiquita paid their workers in Honduras private health insurance which cost them a total of 1 million USD per year. Quite a lot of money for a company close to bankruptcy. A few weeks ago they wanted to lower the level of health care services. As a result, workers went on strike for more than 40 days. Bananas worth 30 million USD could not be exported. Is this really worth it?

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