Why are ethics an important factor in chatbot design?

Ethics, you say. What have ethics got to do with chatbot design?

Well, if you’re part of the ecosystem that’s building chatbots or virtual assistants and using them in customer services or wider communication channels, then ethics have got everything to do with it.

Your chatbots are an extension of your brand, and they will be expected to act with the same integrity as anyone – human or not, associated with it.

Large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT have thrown a spotlight directly on the pitfalls of relying solely upon technology to do a job that still requires human thought and empathy. They ‘learn’ from the vast variety of publicly available sources – books, websites, and other text – to understand the human language. But that data can reflect the bias present in society, and the LLM knows no better than to reproduce it.

Chatbots are open to the same training data bias, but they can also fall foul of a user’s bias too. If a chatbot is programmed to prioritize user engagement or satisfaction without considering the ethical implications, it might be tempted to deliver a prejudiced response – and the potential impact on your brand is inconceivable.

Ethics are an often-forgotten factor in chatbot design, so here we’ve considered the top reasons for having and adhering to ethical guidelines when you’re designing virtual assistants.

Fairness and discrimination

Just like humans, your chatbots should treat those they interact with fairly and without discrimination. They should have the persona of someone you’d call a friend with the same level of integrity you’d expect from them. Ethics ensure that chatbots are designed and programmed to do just that, preventing the reinforcement of existing biases or the creation of new discriminatory behavior. They also ensure your chatbots will be inclusive, respect diversity and that their actions don’t disadvantage an individual or group of people.

User wellbeing

If your chatbots are interacting with humans, then it’s important that their responses are designed and programmed to prioritize user safety, mental health, and emotional wellbeing. No one wants to talk to a chatbot that gives advice that might cause harm, provide inaccurate information, or not provide appropriate support when necessary. Ethics ensure they are designed with these factors in mind so they’re the friendliest, most helpful, and reliable bots to have around.

Transparency and accountability

It should be clear to the user that they’re interacting with a chatbot, not a human, to be as transparent as possible. Ethical guidelines promote this level of transparency so that user expectations are managed, and everyone knows what the bot is capable of and its limitations. Equally organizations must take responsibility for their chatbot’s actions and consequences, rectifying problems where necessary. “It wasn’t our fault, it was the chatbot’s,” clearly isn’t going to wash with your users – quite rightly so.

Avoiding misinformation

Without human design, chatbots can spread misinformation – simply because their data sources may be misinformed. Ethics would require chatbots to provide accurate information from reliable, factual sources, so that users can’t be deceived. No one wants a chatbot that’s economical with the truth or has a penchant for fake news!

Social impact

We’re increasingly integrating chatbots and personal assistants into various aspects of life including customer services, healthcare, education, and public services. Ethics consider the social impact of using virtual assistants responsibly, with thought for cultural and societal norms and considering legal and regulatory frameworks. Just because they’re bots, doesn’t mean they should get away with bad behavior – so you’ll be needing some strict ethical guidelines to follow.

At the end of the day, these bots are an extension of your brand. They’re part of your organization and they must abide by the same high standards you’d expect of any of your human employees. A set of ethical guidelines will determine your chatbots are respectful to users, foster their trust and ultimately contribute positively to society.

If you would like to find out more about our Introduction to conversational AI ethics course  please visit the course page or if you would like to find out more about how we can help your business develop world leading AI assistants contact our client services team through the form on our website.