While the rise of autonomous and intelligent systems has been met with a mixture of excitement and alarm from prominent public figures, it’s important to remember that machines are what we make them.
As the realms of technology and ethics collide, there are important questions that need to be answered. How should a driverless car handle a life or death situation? Should robots be granted citizenship?
According to Kay Firth Butterfield, executive vice chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ (IEEE) Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, and head of AI and machine learning at the World Economic Forum (WEF), we cannot move forward in a spirit of fear about the creation of AI and autonomous systems. Instead, we need to be proactive in entrenching ethics in design principles for these systems.
“By ensuring ethical methodologies become industry standard in the creation of these technologies, we’ll shift from a spirit of paranoia to pragmatism and redefine innovation around which machines or systems best honour the values of its users,” Firth Butterfield said.
Ethically aligned design
The IEEE’s Global Initiative is working to spark public discussion how ethical AI systems should behave – especially for ones that can make decisions traditionally left to humans. It also seeks to establish standards and policy to guide the engineers and scientists who design and develop intelligent and automated machines.
Late last year, IEEE released the second version of Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, which includes more than 100 practical recommendations for technologists, academics and policy makers.
These recommendations include personal data rights, affordable universal access to the internet, legal frameworks, education and awareness policies, and how to manage concerns about future technology such as autonomous weapons.
According to the IEEE website, the document received input from 250 thought leaders around the world from fields including engineering, technology, law, ethics, government and industry.
The first version of Ethically Aligned Design was released for public comment in December 2016, and generated a lot of attention: it received more than 200 pages of feedback.
The IEEE is also developing a model process for engineers to identify and address users’ ethical concerns in the first stages of designing systems and software, and are inviting interested parties to participate in the process.
Education and empowerment
Raja Chatila, Chair of the IEEE Global Initiative and Professor of Robotics and AI at Marie Curie University, Paris, said education and empowerment are key to making sure that technology makes the world a better place.
“Our mission is to ensure that every stakeholder involved in the design and development of autonomous and intelligent systems is educated, trained and empowered to prioritise ethical considerations so that these technologies are advanced for the benefit of humanity.”
The second version of Ethically Aligned Design will be open for public comment until 12 March, with the final version due to be released in 2019. You can read the document and submit feedback here.