A PYMNTS Company

Corporate Responsibility in the Age of AI

 |  August 4, 2023

By: Maria Eitel (Project Syndicate)

Over the past year, the discussions surrounding artificial intelligence have exploded, presenting divergent views. Some see AI as a gateway to a bright and boundless future, while others fear it may lead us into a grim dystopia. We can liken these views to the captivating scenarios portrayed in summer blockbuster movies, with one resembling the optimism of “Barbie” and the other the foreboding sense of “Oppenheimer.” However, amidst these fervent debates, one crucial conversation seems to be overshadowed – the discussion about corporate responsibility.

In 1998, I joined Nike as its inaugural Vice President of Corporate Responsibility during a tumultuous period in the era of hyper-globalization. The sports and fitness giant was embroiled in a significant corporate crisis, becoming associated with labor exploitation in developing nations. Through this crisis, we faced challenging situations and learned valuable lessons that can now guide us in navigating the AI revolution.

Yet, there exists a fundamental distinction between then and now. During the Nike saga in the late 1990s, the events unfolded relatively slowly, granting us time to respond. In contrast, with AI, we lack such luxury. Just last year, generative AI burst into our collective consciousness like a lightning strike, and since then, we have been striving to comprehend its implications.

Presently, generative AI companies operate without externally imposed guardrails, making all of us unwitting participants in their experimentation. This reality is far from normal. If Boeing or Airbus were to introduce an airplane promising cost-effectiveness and speed but potentially posing severe dangers, society would not accept the risk. A pharmaceutical company launching an untested product while warning of its potential toxicity would be held criminally responsible for any illnesses or fatalities it caused. So why do we allow technology companies to bring AI products to the market when they themselves acknowledge the risk of endangering humanity?…