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A view of a poster about ethical AI
Michael Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times
Ethical AI urges technologists to “think slower.”

Are AI ethicists making any difference?

Helen Edwards
Member exclusive by Helen Edwards for AI’s power problem

Tech companies, consulting firms, and even the US military are rushing to add ethics boards and hire “AI ethicists.” They’re asking them to think about everything from bias and fairness to the circumstances under which it is acceptable to use autonomous weapons.

It’s a welcome acknowledgment of the harm AI can do.

But many people are skeptical about the role of ethicists in technology companies—including both ethicists and technologists. Trained ethicists in particular have bristled at this new role, often because some “AI ethicists” don’t have formal training in ethics and moral philosophy.