Transparency and Trust in the Cognitive Era

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IBM THINK Blog

We are in the early days of a promising new technology, and of the new era to which it is giving birth. This technology is as radically different from the programmable systems that have been produced by the IT industry for half a century as those systems were from the tabulators that preceded them.

Commonly referred to as artificial intelligence, this new generation of technology and the cognitive systems it helps power will soon touch every facet of work and life – with the potential to radically transform them for the better. This is because these systems can ingest and understand all forms of data, which is being produced at an unprecedented rate. Cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson can reason over this data, forming hypotheses and judgments. Most importantly, these systems are not simply programmed, they learn – from their own experiences, their interactions with humans and the outcomes of their judgments.

As with every prior world-changing technology, this technology carries major implications. Many of the questions it raises are unanswerable today and will require time, research and open discussion to answer. But at IBM, we have learned something over 100 years of inventing and introducing transformative technologies and of guiding their responsible adoption and use. This experience has taught us that it is both pragmatic and wise to establish principles to guide what we develop and bring to the world, and how we do so.

Today we are establishing the following principles for the Cognitive Era:

Purpose: The purpose of AI and cognitive systems developed and applied by the IBM company is to augment human intelligence. Our technology, products, services and policies will be designed to enhance and extend human capability, expertise and potential. Our position is based not only on principle but also on science. Cognitive systems will not realistically attain consciousness or independent agency. Rather, they will increasingly be embedded in the processes, systems, products and services by which business and society function – all of which will and should remain within human control.

Transparency: For cognitive systems to fulfill their world-changing potential, it is vital that people have confidence in their recommendations, judgments and uses. Therefore, the IBM company will make clear:

  • When and for what purposes AI is being applied in the cognitive solutions we develop and deploy.
  • The major sources of data and expertise that inform the insights of cognitive solutions, as well as the methods used to train those systems and solutions.
  • The principle that clients own their own business models and intellectual property and that they can use AI and cognitive systems to enhance the advantages they have built, often through years of experience. We will work with our clients to protect their data and insights, and will encourage our clients, partners and industry colleagues to adopt similar practices.

Skills: The economic and societal benefits of this new era will not be realized if the human side of the equation is not supported. This is uniquely important with cognitive technology, which augments human intelligence and expertise and works collaboratively with humans. Therefore, the IBM company will work to help students, workers and citizens acquire the skills and knowledge to engage safely, securely and effectively in a relationship with cognitive systems, and to perform the new kinds of work and jobs that will emerge in a cognitive economy.

Our experience over more than a century and our daily work with clients from every industry and sector around the world have taught us that transparency and principles that engender trust are important for both business and society. However, we also recognize that there is much learning ahead for all of us. In that spirit, we hope that our publication of these tenets can spark an industry-wide – indeed, a society-wide – dialogue on the fundamental questions that must be answered, in order to achieve the economic and societal potential of a cognitive future.

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