IEEE wants engineers to put AI ethics on priority list

Article By : Rick Merritt

IEEE's initiative raises a list of provocative questions, such as whether mixed-reality systems could be used for mind control or therapy.

The IEEE has launched an initiative highlighting ethics as a part of the design process, especially for systems using artificial intelligence. The effort, IEEE hopes, will start conversations that lead to consensus-driven actions and continue generating three standards efforts.

The society published a 138-page report that outlines a smorgasbord of issues at the intersection of AI technology and values. They range from how to identify and handle privacy around personal information to how to define and audit human responsibilities for autonomous weapon systems.

The report raises a list of provocative questions, such as whether mixed-reality systems could be used for mind control or therapy. It also provides some candidate recommendations and suggests a process for getting community feedback on them.

“The point is to empower people working on this technology to take ethics into account,” said Raja Chatila, chair of the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems.

The effort seeks input not only from engineers but from business people, lawyers, economists, and philosophers. “The answers will come from society—not only the experts but the system users and other stakeholders,” said Chatila, who is also research director at the French National Center of Scientific Research and teaches AI and robotics at Pierre and Marie Curie University in France.

“It’s not enough to come up with a list of concerns—we want to come up with methodologies and proposals for standards,” he said.

Chatila was one of the few people who came up with the initiative at an IEEE meeting a year ago. At the time, he was president of the IEEE’s society of robotics and automation and a similar France-based group that had just written a report on design ethics.

The core group evolved to a team of more than 100 academic and industry representatives who drafted the report. They include representatives from Cisco, IBM, Google, and NXP.

So far, the group has spawned three ideas already going through the IEEE standards process. Two others, identified as P7001 and P7002, are more specific, dealing with data privacy in autonomous systems.

The group seeks online feedback by March 6, 2017, on the overall initiative or any of its candidate proposals. The discussion aims to raise awareness of the issues, provide education and spawn actions.

“Ethical design is only possible if it’s based on broad consensus,” said Chatila, suggesting companies involved in AI may someday have their own chief ethics officers.

First published by EE Times.

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