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Sustainable Investing Glossary

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence or AI is the intelligence demonstrated by machines, versus the natural intelligence displayed by living things and involving sentience and emotionality. AI includes algorithms, neural networks, machine learning, planning, robotics, and natural language processing.

AI applications today range from content recommendations and big data processing to automated processes and self-driving cars. In the financial industry, AI is being used to detect fraud, and to streamline trading by making supply, demand and pricing of securities easier. As companies within investment portfolios increase their use of AI, so too does the need for asset managers to be aware of the risks as well as opportunities. 

Robeco has an engagement theme on AI and is cautious in particular about the threats posed to civil rights and liberties, for example regarding privacy and surveillance in socially sensitive situations such as the search for jobs and housing. Labor rights may also be abused as labor in AI is often hidden, for example through ‘clickworking’ – repetitive digital tasks used in testing AI systems. Safety and accountability lag behind actual technological innovation in many cases, and our engagement with companies seeks to encourage them to catch up. 

Finally, the issue of bias remain problematic in AI. Bias is either present in data used to train AI systems, or in the design and deployment of those systems. This can increase prejudice and discrimination and increase existing social inequality. The problem is exacerbated in ‘black box’ situations, in which researchers are not clear as to why a neural network has come to a particular decision, even when the decision is ‘correct’. Robeco’s engagement here aims to contribute to SDG 10.2, which promotes inclusion for all, regardless of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.

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