Hospitals are flooded with pandemic patients amidst a slow vaccine rollout, a motley crew of rioters invades the Capitol, the Russians deeply hack federal agencies and major corporations. A hard start to 2021 – we just want to be safe!
That’s true for AI&F, too, but in a different way. Our Zoom calls with Founding Members in November and December found much appreciation for the unique community of diverse skills and disciplines we have assembled as well as substantial energy for a big push in our third year. To me that translates into playing it SAFE: seeking Structure, Accountability, Focus and Engagement for AI&F. Here’s what I mean.
S – Structure
Structure means moving purposefully to create the “think tank” model we began to plan for last summer. A think tank needs expert resources, proprietary knowledge, and well-defined topics of research.
Expert resources? Check! Our growing collection of Founding Members provide a wide range of expertise across both technology and humanities disciplines as well as business, academic, and faith organizations.
Proprietary knowledge? Check! In the December Zoom calls, Founding Member Dan Rasmus provided an early look at the Database Demonstration Project he is compiling using TheBrain Software. After the Zoom calls, our Board authorized Dan, who has an extensive background in think tank management at Microsoft and Forrester Research, to complete the core of the database by the end of February. We expect Dan’s compilation and analysis will provide the basis for a more indepth Founding Member gathering in March on how to build on and apply this knowledge.
Areas of Focus? Check, Check, Check! The core of the database is 1) a compilation and breakdown of AI ethics policies with both secular and faith perspectives; 2) the landscape of AI ethics research especially from faith perspectives; and 3) the literature of same.
A – Accountability
Accountability refers to the strengthening of our governance structure, financial position, and exposure preparatory to seeking grant funding later this year. We are seeking to expand our already great board by up to five new positions – three additional Founding Members and two outside directors. Drawing on our new Founding Member Keith Barrows’ development expertise, we are designing a funding structure to spread the financial load for our work and provide a base for the new think tank. To expand exposure of our great content, we will be seeking all hands on deck for posting across our Founding Members’ networks.
F – Focus
We want to bring our mission into further Focus in two ways – our target audience(s) and highlighting key issues.
As to our target audience, in 2020 we sought out tech workers to learn more about their interest and engagement with AI ethics in their work/life integration, and we began to create a curriculum for faith congregations on the deep relevance of AI issues for belief and ministry. This February, we are using the ethics track in the Faith@Work ERG Conference referenced elsewhere in this issue to explore in greater depth how faith-oriented tech workers can move from faith beliefs to practical ethical outcomes around significant, real world AI challenges. With 15 Founding Members providing faculty for the ethics track, we should be well-positioned to evaluate what we learn from the conference experience in a March Founding Member confab.
For our Focus on key issues, we are planning several special themed monthly Newsletters, similar to The Social Dilemma theme of our November 2020 Newsletter. Our February Newsletter is already in the works themed around how faith ministries are applying AI-powered tools for better work and efficiency. Our Founding Member Shanen Boettcher is the perfect guest editor for that issue, bringing to bear both his longterm experience as a Microsoft product manager, and his most recent PhD study of how different tech media shape people’s understanding of theological issues. Other themes under consideration are lessons bioethicists have to teach data ethicists; what faith beliefs have to say about truth in social media; and how faith leaders can engage work replacement challenges of their congregants. We will also explore possible limited series podcasts featuring the authors of this themed work.
E – Engagement
Finally Engagement relates to how to achieve greater efficiency and productivity by working with formal and informal partners, and more effectively engaging the interests and expertise of our Founding Members. One example is our participation with the Religious Business and Freedom Foundation in the February Faith@Work ERG Conference, in which we are providing ethics faculty and RFBF the conference platform and marketing. In like manner, as we better identify the landscape of podcasts, journals and other outlets for faith perspectives on AI ethics, we can seek to support and leverage them rather than developing our own. We know a number of our Founding Members have their own blogs and podcasts for which we can provide content and otherwise participate. And as we formalize roles in the think tank, we anticipate identifying various volunteer Fellows positions that can broaden and sustain our base.
Hopefully, everyone will come to feel “safer” by fall 2021 as the COVID vaccine rolls out and society begins to open back up. Making AI&F SAFE’r will allow us to ride that wave better too.