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Europe unveils its own attempt to address ethical AI

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Addressing the ethical implications of artificial intelligence has become very fashionable in recent months, and right on cue, the European Commission has produced seven guidelines for ethical AI.

The guidelines themselves are not much more than a theoretical playbook for companies to build products and services around for the moment. However, any future legislation which is developed to guide the development of AI in the European Union will likely use these guidelines as the foundation blocks. It might not seem critical for the moment, but it could offer some insight into future regulation and legislation.

“The ethical dimension of AI is not a luxury feature or an add-on,” said Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip. “It is only with trust that our society can fully benefit from technologies. Ethical AI is a win-win proposition that can become a competitive advantage for Europe: being a leader of human-centric AI that people can trust.”

“We now have a solid foundation based on EU values and following an extensive and constructive engagement from many stakeholders including businesses, academia and civil society,” said Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel. “We will now put these requirements to practice and at the same time foster an international discussion on human-centric AI.”

The seven guidelines are as follows:

  1. Human agency and oversight: AI systems should enable equitable societies by supporting human agency and fundamental rights, and not decrease, limit or misguide human autonomy.
  2. Robustness and safety: Trustworthy AI requires algorithms to be secure, reliable and robust enough to deal with errors or inconsistencies during all life cycle phases of AI systems.
  3. Privacy and data governance: Citizens should have full control over their own data, while data concerning them will not be used to harm or discriminate against them.
  4. Transparency: The traceability of AI systems should be ensured.
  5. Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness: AI systems should consider the whole range of human abilities, skills and requirements, and ensure accessibility.
  6. Societal and environmental well-being: AI systems should be used to enhance positive social change and enhance sustainability and ecological responsibility.
  7. Accountability: Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure responsibility and accountability for AI systems and their outcomes.

The Commission will now launch a pilot phase with industry and academia to make sure the guidelines are realistic to implement in real-world cases. The results of this pilot will inform any measures taken by the Commission or national governments moving forward.

This is one of the first official documents produced to support the development of AI, though many parties around the world are attempting to weigh in on the debate. It is critically important for governments and regulators to take a stance, such is the profound impact AI will have on society, though private industry is attempting to make itself heard as well.

From private industry’s perspective, the mission statement is relatively simple; ensure any bureaucratic processes don’t interfere too much with the ability to make money. Google was the latest to attempt to create its own advisory board to hype the lobby game, but this was nothing short of a disaster.

Having set up the board with eight ‘independent’ experts, the plan was scrapped almost immediately after employees criticised one of the board members for not falling on the right side of the political divide. This might have been an embarrassing incident, though the advisory board was hardly going to achieve much.

Google suggested the board would meet four times a year to review the firms approach to AI. Considering AI is effectively embedded, or will be, in everything which Google does, a quarterly assessment was hardly going to provide any actionable insight. It would be simply too much to do in a short period of time. This was nothing more than a PR plug by the internet giant, obsessed with appearing to be on the side of the consumer.

AI will have a significant impact on the world and almost everyone’s livelihood. For some, jobs will be enhanced, but there will always be pain. Some will find their jobs redundant, some will find their careers extinguished. Creating ethical guidelines for AI development and deployment will be critical and Europe is leading the charge.

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