Regulations for AI: we need leaders with sound judgement –

Picture: Gerd Altmann/Pixbabay

Picture: Gerd Altmann/Pixbabay

Published Aug 12, 2023


By Adelle Wapnick

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war” Sam Altman/Bill Gates

Why is it that we so badly need to rely on regulations to pave the way for AI and its application in business and society, when it’s been clearly understood that it will reshape humanity and possibly pose a real threat?

This is not to debate the merit of technological innovation against the stagnation of the status quo, instead it’s to understand what role leader character might play in its rollout.

Leaders from the main AI companies - OpenAI, Amazon, Google, Inflection, Anthropic, Meta, Microsoft - recently met with Biden to agree on a set of voluntary safeguards - that’s a little like asking a student to mark their own exam (!). ‘Voluntary’ indicates that they are not enforceable, meaning those companies will need to use their discretion. They are also admitting to the potential risks while forfeiting little in their spirited competition with each other.

In spite of understanding these implications, those companies keep growing, going about business as they please. It is reminiscent of the 2008 global financial crisis with equally, if not worse, potential consequences.

In 2008 it became apparent from research done by a group of Ivey Business School academics (Crossan, Seijts et al.) that the global crisis was as a result of hubris and greed based on predatory lending, and NOT the black swan many thought it to be. They developed a framework in which at the heart of leader character lies sound judgment.

The ability to exercise decision making that is cognitively complex, requiring critical thinkers who are situationally aware.

One would imagine this to be the case, however, its apparent this is not always so. While there is drive and some collaboration amongst those organisations driving AI - components of leader character - character is also about justice, courage, humanity, transcendence and accountability which means ultimately taking ownership of the consequences. Difficult when the major players have other intentions in mind – to please shareholders. And more so, when many consequences are unimagined.

The character conversation is not new, it has a long history in moral philosophy.

Around for millennia ancient philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas long debated contributions to moral virtue.

They argued that human excellence includes moral virtues and that the excellent human will be, above all, courageous, moderate and just. Aristotle pointed out “it is our choice of good or evil that determines our character, not our opinion about good or evil”.

The concept of character has seen a prolific emergence, as we attempt to better manage our world and the current challenges we face as a species.

This week the USA National Association for College Admission Counseling announced a new Character Focus Initiative to elevate the importance of non-academic factors and personal attributes in admissions.

Long overdue, universities want students to demonstrate empathy, respect, fairness and integrity over and above scores.

Harvard Business School is working with other schools to pilot assessment tools and practices, wanting to publish same for high schools.

A survey carried out by Birmingham University found that 79% of police officers in the UK believe that character and virtues is a central part of police training. Modern day policing with heightened pressure and stress, requires of them the ability to navigate moral dilemmas. The survey is first of the Jubilee Centres research, forming part of a wider focus on “Virtues in the Professions”. Something all professions and organisations should be thinking about.

If context and situation matters, never before has character been a more important consideration for humanity. As Aristotle said, “character is revealed through action”. Let’s learn the lessons from our past and exercise leader character when it comes to decisions such as these, otherwise our extinction may be self-inflicted.

Adelle Wapnick is an Executive Coach and founder of Future New Consulting.