From Ethics to Innovation: Key Insights from the ‘Alice Asks…’ AI Event

Hollywood bosses are drawing up plans to invite cartoon character Mickey Mouse and his pet dog Pluto to their brain-storming sessions, our recent Alice Asks event on artificial intelligence (AI) was told.

And no, we’re not taking the Mickey.

The surreal prospect of the Walt Disney icon attending real-life business meetings was raised by panel member Adele Keane, the COO and Creative Director at the innovative augmented reality (AR) platform Imvizar, when she shared details about a recent talk she attended along with senior executives from Universal and Disney.

“They were talking about how they are using AI for next-generation stories,” said Adele, whose AR start-up specialises in crafting location-specific experiences. “And what they said was at next year’s talk they are likely to have extra seats at the end of the table with holograms of Mickey Mouse and Pluto, who will be joining in on the discussion.”

Moderated by veteran journalist and former RTÉ news anchor, Eileen Dunne, the Alice Asks event at the Anantara Marker Dublin Hotel last Thursday (27th June) posed the question, ‘Is AI a Force for Evil or for Good?’.

Alice founder and CEO, Martina Quinn, explained that we decided to focus on this topic because the majority of our clients work in the charity and public sectors, and we feel that civil society voices are not being heard in the ongoing debate about AI. She told the audience that AI has the potential to bring about “mind-blowing change for the world” in areas like addressing the climate crisis and making healthcare more equitable. However, she cautioned that AI is just a tool – and whether it’s used for good or bad depends on the humans using it.

“I’m afraid I don’t have enough faith in humanity to use this tool well. It is a capitalist and commercially driven tool, and I don’t think it is being used for the public good,” said Martina, who promotes the ethical use of AI in her role as Chairperson of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Ireland and as Ireland’s representative on the Board of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation.

As an example, the audience was told how fears are growing that AI-produced deep fakes are being used to unfairly influence general elections, and that our democratic processes are being eroded as a result.

Panellist Ciarán O’Connor, a Senior Analyst at the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, said elections were “the bedrock of democracy” as he warned of the risks AI poses.

“What AI has the potential to do when placed in the wrong hands is to be used to disrupt, to deceive and ultimately undermine our democracies,” said Ciarán, who specialises in researching extremism, disinformation and digital threats to democracy online.

But Barry Scannell, a Partner at law firm William Fry, and a member of Ireland’s AI Advisory Council, said people were the problem, not the technology.

“You don’t need AI to lie, people are really good at that,” he said.

Quoting Shakespeare’s troubled prince, Hamlet, Barry said he believed the public mistrust of AI had its roots in how the debate was sometimes framed.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” he said.

Barry, who specialises in technology law and data protection, also said any organisation that uses AI will soon be legally obliged to train their staff to use the technology, as part of clauses included in the EU’s AI Act .

But amid all the talk of a dystopian future with ‘computers the size of cities’, and massive data centres powered by their own nuclear reactors, it was heartening to learn that AI can be human too and gets things wrong.

“There is no widely available information to suggest that Eileen Dunne is known for dancing professionally or as a prominent hobby. She is primarily recognised for a career in journalism and broadcasting,” was the response our Chairperson, Dermot Ryan, received when he asked the AI bot, ChatGPT, if the former ‘Dancing with the Stars’ contestant “danced at all?”.

“That brings some satisfaction to me as a public relations professional, that we are not yet out of a job,” concluded Dermot.