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“We’re here at an inflection point for AI,” said Eric Horvitz, managing director of Microsoft Research, at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech conference this week. “We have an ethical imperative to harness AI to protect and preserve over time.”

Horvitz spoke alongside researchers from IBM and Google pondering similar issues. One shared concern was that recent advances are leading companies to put software in positions with very direct control over humans—for example in health care.

Francesca Rossi, a researcher at IBM, gave the example of a machine providing assistance or companionship to elderly people. “This robot will have to follow cultural norms that are culture-specific and task-specific,” she said. “[And] if you were to deploy in the U.S. or Japan, that behavior would have to be very different.”

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