7 Crucial Qualities Of Ethical Leadership

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How can you work with artificial intelligence the right way? The best leaders consistently apply these crucial qualities of ethical leadership:

1. Honesty

2. Accountability

3. Care

4. Courage

5. Fairness

6. Gratitude

7. Humility

Let’s take a closer look at each one. I will define each quality and present leaders who exemplify each of these traits in their work with AI.

1. Honesty

The most fundamental character trait of all is honesty. It doesn’t matter how caring or grateful a person is; if they’re not honest, there’s no reason to trust them.

Honesty is, above all, a feeling, a disposition, an orientation toward the truth. Honest leaders cannot tolerate lying, fudging data, misrepresenting themselves or their companies, or engaging in any other conduct that displays contempt for the truth. Falsehood in all its forms is poison to an honest person.

One way that leaders demonstrate their commitment to honesty is through transparency. With respect to AI, this involves openly sharing how AI systems make decisions, explaining what data are being used, and acknowledging the limitations and biases of these systems. By doing so, such leaders build trust and accountability in their use of AI.

But a study by Stanford HAI (Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence) found that AI models often lack transparency. The Foundation Model Transparency Index ranked 10 major AI firms, including Meta’s Llama 2, OpenAI’s GPT-4, and Google’s PaLM 2 and found them woefully lacking in this aspect of honesty. Amazon had only 12% transparency with respect to its Titan Text. “No major foundation model developer is close to providing adequate transparency, revealing a fundamental lack of transparency in the AI industry,” the study found.

Why should these firms and the public be concerned? A lack of transparency also affects the ability of businesses to rely on the technology and compromises the ability of consumers to understand the models’ limitations.

Whoever said “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” didn’t have a report like this in mind. (The proverb is often attributed to P.T. Barnum, but whether he actually said it is not clear.)

2. ​​Accountability

Accountable leaders do four things consistently:

· Keep their promises

· Consider the consequences of their actions

· Take responsibility for their mistakes

· Make amends for their mistakes

Note my use of the word “consistently.” It’s not enough to keep your promises once in a while or to take responsibility for your mistakes here and there. Ethical leadership in general and accountable leadership in particular means doing these four things day in and day out. Yes, we all fall short occasionally, but true accountability means hitting the mark more often than not.

Amazon once used an AI recruitment tool that turned out to be biased against female applicants. It was trained on resumes submitted over a decade, mostly by men, and the AI learned to prefer male candidates over female candidates. To Amazon’s credit, the company stopped using the system after attempts failed to correct the problem. This is a great example of a company taking responsibility for its mistakes and then making the proper amends.

3. Care

Care, like honesty, is first and foremost a strong feeling or passion. Where honesty means having a passion for truth, care means having a deep concern for people’s well-being and flourishing. Many people include animals and the environment among the things they care about. Of course, caring people do more than feel strongly about helping people. They put those feelings into action.

Home Helpers, a home care service provider, evinces a caring approach in its use of artificial intelligence. The company’s President and CEO, Emma Dickison, has discussed how the business is exploring AI applications for improved home-monitoring technology, virtual assistants, and marketing solutions. Dickison emphasizes that any AI solution must be cost-effective and respectful of privacy. A company committed to ethical leadership rightly wants to avoid being an Orwellian “Big Brother.”

Home Helpers is cautious with AI tools. It avoids using free versions of tools like ChatGPT that might compromise proprietary information. Dickson told Home Health Care News writer Joyce Famakinwa:

“We don’t allow anyone, internally, to use the free version of ChatGPT because that feeds into their algorithms. It can give away your IP, your proprietary information, etc. We make sure that we use a premium version. You just want to be really careful and put guardrails up, and internal policies that recognize how and when you can use AI in your business. What gives you the best reward and assumes the least risk.”

It is fitting that a company devoted to home care exemplifies a caring approach to every aspect of its mission. “[W]e will continue to work on behalf of our clients to keep care affordable and for our caregivers to be able to have a professional career long-term in this industry,” Dickison told me in an interview.

4. Courage

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, and not the absence of fear,” wrote Mark Twain. The field of AI is a rich place to see courageous leadership in action.

Consider, for example, Dr. Timnit Gebru, a former co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence team at Google. Her groundbreaking research, conducted with the Algorithmic Justice League founder Joy Buolamwini, exposed biases in AI systems, particularly in facial recognition software, towards people of color. This research rightly prompted significant discussions and moratoriums on the use of such software.

In an article about Dr. Gebru for MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao wrote, “In the immediate aftermath [of her dismissal from Google], over 2,600 Google employees and 4,300 others signed a petition denouncing Gebru’s dismissal as ‘unprecedented research censorship.’ Half a year later,” Hao continued, “research groups are still rejecting the company’s funding, researchers refuse to participate in its conference workshops, and employees are leaving in protest.”​

Dr. Gebru is a shining example of a courageous leader, because she has consistently challenged major tech companies on their ethical AI practices. She has risked her professional standing to advocate for accountability and highlight inherent biases in AI systems, particularly against marginalized groups.

How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in?

5. Fairness

To be fair is to give to others their due. We sometimes speak of fairness in terms of justice. For example, in the workplace, fairness means ensuring that employees are paid what they’re worth (economic justice), are free from harassment (social justice), and are given an opportunity to have their grievances and disputes addressed (procedural justice).

Here’s an example of how one company took its commitment to fairness seriously with respect to AI. Fujitsu Laboratories formed an international AI Ethics Research Team, comprising members from Japan, the U.S., and Europe, to tackle the ethical challenges in AI development. Bias in data and algorithms are a pernicious and pervasive problem in AI systems, as we’ve discussed. Without preventive measures in place, such bias can lead to unethical outcomes such as racial and gender discrimination.

“To avoid discrimination in AI decisions, we should first prevent unfair biases from being included in AI models and datasets,” notes Yuri Nakao, a member of the team who is based in Japan.

6. Gratitude and 7. Humility

Gratitude and humility are two sides of the same coin. Humble leaders recognize that they can’t achieve greatness all by themselves. It takes a team to do it. Grateful leaders regularly acknowledge the work that team members do to make greatness possible.

Satya Nadella’s tenure as CEO of Microsoft is a prime example of how gratitude and humility can profoundly influence leadership for the better with respect to AI. When he moved up to the leadership role in 2014, Nadella shifted Microsoft’s culture from aggressive competition to one emphasizing empathy, collaboration, and ethical responsibility. By focusing on augmenting human capabilities rather than replacing them, he steered the company towards a more humane approach to AI. There were two positive outcomes: Nadella’s approach not only democratized AI but also resulted in significant financial success for Microsoft.

Yes, it is possible to do well by doing good. Satya Nadella is an inspiring example of this.

Summary

The best leaders in the AI sector consistently exemplify these character traits:

1. Honesty

2. Accountability

3. Care

4. Courage

5. Fairness

6. Gratitude

7. Humility

We all mistakes from time to time in each of the above areas. But ethical leadership means doing our level best to exemplify these traits more often than not. The people we serve deserve nothing less.

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