Artificial Intelligence

Leading the way to an ethical AI future

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Author: Kaaren Koomen AM, Director, Government & Regulatory Affairs, A/NZ

As so well described in the Data 61 Report of Nov 2019, AI is one of those technologies which ‘has the power to change life itself and has the potential to transform economies, unlock new societal and environmental value, and accelerate scientific discovery‘.

AI’s future impact on society and its application will evolve in ways that we currently cannot even imagine. For this reason, it’s critical that we consciously build mechanisms to ensure that AI is a force for good. There is no guarantee of getting it right the first time around, and no entity has an exclusive license on how to be ethical. However, building awareness, tools and strategies to ensure ethics, transparency and human oversight in the design of AI is a fundamental step to getting it as right as possible.

The launch of the Rome Call For AI Ethics, an initiative announced on 28 February by the Vatican, with IBM and Microsoft as industry supporters, is an essential step in addressing these issues. The document promotes an ethical approach to AI and its underlying algorithms by incorporating these six principles:

  • Transparency
  • Inclusion
  • Responsibility
  • Impartiality
  • Reliability
  • Security and privacy

The framework document calls this an “algor-ethical” vision of design.

Those supporting the Rome Call for AI Ethics are pledging to work together to promote the ethical advancement of AI as defined by these principles. They also reflect IBM’s Principles for Trust and Transparency, which form the core of how IBM implements AI around the globe, along with practical tools such as Fairness 360.

Other companies and entities have also developed, or are developing, ethical frameworks, guidelines and principles, and although an increasingly busy space, all of these steps should be welcomed and encouraged. The application of AI in many parts of our lives is going to need much ethical consideration, debate and continuous review if AI is to be a force for good in our society and the pathway will not be easy. The challenges of applying ethics to the rollout of AI will not only arise from its use in commercial environments but also in the already complex ethical areas such as defence, national security and law enforcement, where decision-makers will need all the help that they can get to make ethical decisions.

As the President of Pontificial Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, said at the launch, “The first signing of this call is not a culmination, but a starting point for a commitment that appears even more urgent and important than ever before. Joining this initiative implies for the industries that sign it an engagement that also has relevance in terms of costs and industrial contribution to developing and distributing their products.”

Collaborations between the Vatican and leading industry players such as IBM and Microsoft, (and ideally many others in due course) that outline core principles to apply when dealing with AI is an essential step along this continuous societal journey.

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