House of Lords Select Committee Report calls for ethical AI

The House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence spent much of 2017 receiving evidence on the landscape of artificial intelligence research in the UK and the problems or advantages associated with it. Its 180-page report was release on Monday 16 April and contained much that was reassuring but also much that will give government, academia and industry considerable food for thought.

In particular, the Committee recommended that the ethical design and use of technology should become an integral part of the school curriculum, to be taught alongside and in association with programming and ICT. This would hope to ensure that questions about outcomes and possible deleterious effects become built-in as a habitual consideration at the earliest point.

The Committee also recommended that “bodies providing grants and funding…insist that applications for such funding demonstrate an awareness of the implications of their research and how it might be misused.” This is an approach already adopted by one of the UK’s research councils, the EPSRC, who included a requirement for Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in the most recent call for funding applications for Centres for Doctoral Training. RRI is an approach to ICT development that considers outcomes and possible ethical issues at the earliest stage of work to try and ensure that safety and governance are built in from the ground up.

ORBIT (the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT) is also funded by the EPSRC and is tasked with providing training, consultancy and thought-leadership on RRI and ethics. Professor Bernd Stahl, co-founder of ORBIT, commented, “The House of Lords report, to which ORBIT contributed evidence, demonstrates where they believe the direction of travel in this area should be headed. The Select Committee stipulated that they believe the UK can lead in this area and that such leadership is not only morally correct but could be economically beneficial as well. It is clearly time for ethics and responsibility to be taken seriously.”

Notes for editors

ORBIT is the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT. Led by Oxford and De Montfort Universities and funded in the launch phase by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), ORBIT provides policy advice, training on responsible research and innovation (RRI), consultancy, project assessment, support services, and an online community for ICT researchers.
Professor Bernd Stahl is Professor of Critical Research in Technology and Director of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. His interests cover philosophical issues arising from the intersections of business, technology, and information. This includes ethical questions of current and emerging of ICTs, critical approaches to information systems and issues related to responsible research and innovation.

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