This paper has been written to consider how advances in artificial intelligence (AI) will affect the different roles in which people operate as members of society, members of a business and as individuals. It presents an overview of the ethical issues that need to be considered and, perhaps, enshrined in regulation as we embed AI and machine learning applications into our workplaces and our personal lives. It also seeks to explore how regulators have so far responded to AI’s advances and to identify some of the ethical questions the accounting profession, business in general and individuals need to ask as we engage with these new technologies.

To date, the media focus on AI and machine learning has been characterised by two extremes. The first focuses on the tremendous benefits AI can deliver to humankind, freeing us from workplace drudgery and enabling us to actualise our higher order skills. At the other extreme are warnings of robots coming to take over our jobs and a world of “big brother” surveillance emerging where our every mood and move will be monitored and analysed, the ensuing information used to manipulate us in ways, not of our choosing.

The approach of this paper is to present a more holistic snapshot of this very fast-paced technological movement, to anticipate how these developments will affect our personal, social and workplace environments and foreshadow the ethical implications that need to be considered. To assist us in drafting this paper, we have interviewed key industry figures across Australia and New Zealand to gain their insights. Special acknowledgments go to Sarah Adam-Gedge CA, Professor Nicholas Agar, Lachlan McCalman, Antonio Papalia CA, Channa Wijesinghe FCA, and Peter Williams FCA.

We suggest that, with the recent advances made in machine learning, we have arrived at an ethical crossroads where we need to determine the role AI will play in shaping our shared futures. Our immediate ethical challenge is to consider how best we can use AI to advance human well-being and how best we can prepare people for an AI world. We have a window of opportunity, to step back and purposely design an AI world that ushers in a more inclusive global society and economic system that exists today. If we fail to build the ethical dimension into each stage of our AI journey, an alternative route that perpetuates the current polarization of wealth and resources within and between societies seems inevitable. The academic world has put in place an ethics regime around research with humans which may be the appropriate starting point in considering the type of ethical framework necessary to guide ongoing AI developments. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure AI will take us to places where we want to go and that the journey will change us in ways that enable us to evolve and flourish as human beings.

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