Real life ethics

On the news this morning there was a report about a single £150m donation to Oxford University by American billionaire (and Trump advisor) Stephen A Schwarzman. It is believed to be the biggest single donation to a UK university ‘since the Renaissance’.

The donation isn’t just because Mr Schwarzman was feeling generous or that he made a rash promise during a drunken night of irresponsible bragging. It’s not even because he went to Oxford University and wants to pay them back for having a hand in his success. (I mean ‘success’ in the purely American sense of making more money than most people.)

No, the donation has rules attached to it. Mainly to do with ethics. The ethics of Artificial Intelligence to be precise. One of his reasons for looking into the ethics of AI is because he doesn’t like the way the Internet has progressed since it’s inception. He complains that a ‘bunch of scientists’ thought the Internet was cool and just ‘threw it out there’ to a general public, unaware of their responsibilities to the rest of humanity.

One of the greatest innovations of the Internet is freedom. Freedom to say what you want. Well, at least until people worked out how to monetise it. Then the control came. Then the need for ethics as decided by old white men because they feel that the acquisition of lots of money makes them more able to understand the finer points of ethical thinking.

A recent study carried out by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Toronto, tested 1,000 people, from different socio-economic backgrounds and found that the wealthier a person is, the more unethical they behave¹.

Of course, that is rather simplistic. Digging deeper into the study, it was found that the wealthy believe they know better because of their wealth. They feel it puts them in a position of greater understanding of the world because, basically, they own most of it.

If the rich were really more ethical than the poor, surely they’d be endowing the poor with the skills required to be as ethical as they are…because it’s ethical to do so.

But no, that’s not how it works. In order to be more ethical, the wealthy need to endow universities with their names, money and ability to mold ethics around their own opinions of what ethics should be.

It will be interesting to see what ‘The Schwarzman Institute Of AI Ethics’ comes up with but I bet it’s not a way to equalise wealth throughout the world so everyone gets the opportunity to be ethical. Or perhaps the Institute will decide that AI should not be allowed to think of all people as equal in order to continue the thinking that Wealth Equals Ethics. After all, who wants an artificial brain telling the rich what to do.

¹ Wagner, N, 2012, Are Rich People More Ethical?, The Atlantic. Available online at:  

This entry was posted in Gary's Posts. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.