Bank of America and Harvard University have collaborated on a new initiative designed to make the complex technologies behind artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) more universally beneficial and accessible to the global workforce. The mission of the newly formed Council on the Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence is to address issues of policy and ethics, thereby enabling industries and the individuals who drive them to keep pace with the rapidly evolving interface between people and machines.
Through the development of best practices and by maintaining a transparent dialogue, the Council strives to leverage the speed and convenience that AI and ML can provide industries such as finance, healthcare, retail, manufacturing and others. Bank of America’s chief operations and technology officer, Cathy Bessant, is a founding member of the council, which was formed in April 2018.
“I started thinking about the implications of the potential uses for artificial intelligence about 18 months ago,” she explained. “A huge piece of this is my own workforce here at Bank of America. In the face of ever-increasing technological change, how do we keep a workforce engaged and motivated? How are we thinking proactively about career development and career transformation? Can somebody who processes [data] manually today learn artificial intelligence, or learn how to manage a team of bots or machines that create outcomes in place of people?”
Therein lies the rub with artificial intelligence in a world that may not be quite ready for its benefits and, as some would say, possible pitfalls. While AI possesses vast potential for simplifying our lives, Bessant’s concerns are validated by the fact that many people view it as a threat to their livelihoods, creating skepticism and, in extreme cases, fear.
To help change the current ideology, the Council was formed to research the latest developments in this emerging technology and to educate the populace on its legal and moral implications, as well as to develop better, more useful and responsible ways to utilize a gift that is still widely misunderstood.
“Machines cannot by definition be better than humans,” noted Bessant. “They are programmed by humans; they are architected by humans. So every element of how a machine works – regardless of whether after programming they can work on their own – is driven by a human being. Machines can only be as good as the processes that train them and the people who train them.”
The Council will be comprised of members from government agencies, international businesses and educators from Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In addition to Bessant, a financial technology expert, they will include some of the greatest minds in the fields of academia, computer science, cybersecurity and economics.
“We approached Harvard a little over six months ago, and they immediately took the idea further than I could have thought about,” Bessant recalled. “I knew they were the right leaders.”
But to do what, exactly? Consumers and businesses still have legitimate concerns about AI, particularly pertaining to transparency. For instance, how can society benefit from the automation of large sets of data without compromising individual and corporate privacy? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that an algorithm can properly respect basic human rights?
This is the mission of the council, Bessant explained. “I thought the idea of having an independent academic perspective as the leader of the effort brought the right objectivity and the right focus on process and inclusion, versus the perception of a predetermined outcome,” she said. “I was so impressed with the brainpower to lead this that Harvard became the natural owner of the Council.”
Have artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies been built upon the level of trust required by today’s users, or is there more work to be done? Can AI and ML help to create systems that lead to better, more efficient work – or are they falling short?
The answer remains to be seen. But, thankfully, someone is working on it.
“Our goal with the Council is to begin putting a framework around these issues,” Bessant says. “To collaboratively work on short- and long-term answers for the pressing questions facing all companies in all industries today.”