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AI shapes people’s lives on a daily basis, setting prices in retail stores and making recommendations ranging from movies to romantic partners. But some question whether AI can become a corrupting force, even influencing people’s behavior to the point that they break ethical rules.
A fascinating study published by researchers at the University of Amsterdam, Max Planck Institute, Otto Beisheim School of Management, and the University of Cologne aims to discover the degree to which AI-generated advice can lead people to cross moral lines. In a large-scale survey leveraging OpenAI’s GPT-2 language model, the researchers found AI’s advice can “corrupt” people even when they’re aware the source of the advice is AI.
Academics are increasingly concerned that AI could be co-opted by malicious actors to foment discord by spreading misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies. In a paper published by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC), the coauthors find that GPT-3, the successor to GPT-2, could reliably generate “informational” and “influential” text that might “radicalize individuals into violent far-right extremist ideologies and behaviors.”
The coauthors of this latest paper trained GPT-2 to generate “honesty-promoting” and “dishonesty-promoting” advice using a dataset of contributions from around 400 participants. Then they recruited a group of over 1,500 people to read instructions, receive the advice, and engage in a task designed to assess honest or dishonest behavior.
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People from the group were paired in “dyads” comprising a first and second “mover.” The first mover rolled a die in private and reported the outcome, while the second mover learned about the first mover’s report before rolling a die in private and then reporting the outcome. Only if the first and second mover reported the same outcome were they paid according to the value of the double die roll, with higher rolls corresponding to higher pay. They weren’t paid if they reported different outcomes.
Before reporting the die roll outcome, people randomly assigned to different treatments read honesty-promoting or dishonesty-promoting advice that was either human-written or AI-generated. They either knew the source of the advice or knew there was a 50-50 chance that it came from either source. Those who didn’t know could earn bonus pay if they correctly guessed the source of the advice.
According to the researchers, the AI-generated advice “corrupted” people, whether the source of the advice was disclosed to them or not. In fact, the statistical effect of AI-generated advice was indistinguishable from that of human-written advice. More discouragingly, honesty-promoting advice from AI failed to sway people’s behavior.
The researchers say their study illustrates the importance of testing the influence of AI as a step toward maintaining responsible deployment. And they warn that people with malicious intentions could use the forces of AI to corrupt others.
“AI could be a force for good if it manages to convince people to act more ethically. Yet our results reveal that AI advice fails to increase honesty. AI advisors can serve as scapegoats to which one can deflect (some of the) moral blame of dishonesty. Moreover … in the context of advice taking, transparency about algorithmic presence does not suffice to alleviate its potential harm,” the researchers wrote. “When AI-generated advice aligns with individuals’ preferences to lie for profit, they gladly follow it, even when they know the source of the advice is an AI. It appears there is a discrepancy between stated preferences and actual behavior, highlighting the necessity to study human behavior in interaction with actual algorithmic outputs.”
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