Joining Forces for Digital Ethics: Takeaways from the TechUK Digital Ethics Summit

12 Dec 2018

TechUK held its second annual Digital Ethics Summit on 12 December, gathering stakeholders in government, industry, and academia to discuss the ethical deployment of AI and emerging technologies.

“If we are to unlock the huge potential of AI, we must begin with ethics”, announced Margot James, MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries in DCMS. For her, the potential of digital and data-driven technologies to transform societies and foster growth is dependent on ethical and responsible design in order to build trust with consumers. This starts with embedding responsibility and ethics into the culture and fabric of companies and public institutions.

In a recorded address, UK’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham praised the progress made on digital ethics, calling attention to the work by the newly established Ada Lovelace Institute and the Centre for Data Ethics as “they provide the bandwidth to consider wider social consideration when data is put to new innovative uses”. According to Denham, the next step for regulators should be to simultaneously establish data ethics standards with strong enforceable laws on privacy and data protection. Most importantly, she called for the intersectoral collaboration of regulators to implement fairness as a legal requirement in order to “reduce the real estate for those operating in the ethically questionable but legally acceptable realm”.

Addressing fundamental ethical issues related to AI will take time and effort. “It is a marathon, not a 100m sprint”, underlined Luciano Floridi of the Oxford Internet Institute. This requires focusing on the opportunities (such as human self-realisation, social cohesion, and enhanced societal capabilities and human agency) rather than on the risks (including reduced human control and devalued human skills). For him, over-focus on the challenges could prevent us from setting up ambitious goals, risking the underuse of AI.

A powerful point was raised by Rachel Coldicutt, CEO of doteveryone, regarding the risk of the discussion on AI ethics becoming insular and disconnected from the societal challenges around us. To avoid this, Coldicutt urged governments and businesses to collaborate on “projects of radical hope” that strengthen societies and encourage practical action, in order to “make responsible technology mainstream”.

The importance of widening public engagement and diversity of perspective in decisions about AI policy was highlighted by a range of participants, including Sana Khareghani, Head of UK Government Office for AI, and Cora Govett, Deputy Director for the Digital Charter team in DCMS. In this context, greater digital literacy campaigns will enhance the wider understanding of AI. Indeed, an educated public will only improve the debate and lead to more robust political decisions about AI ethics.

Conversation between industry and government on the subject has moved towards envisioning practical applications of ethical AI. This multistakeholder engagement was timely as the topic is not only a concern for data ethicists and human rights advocates, but also for consumers and employees who demand fairness, accountability, and transparency in the use of AI. Ultimately, practical action in 2019 will be key to capture the role of responsible technology in society. To help with this, the focus should now be placed on ethics as a long-term competitive advantage particularly for businesses who stand to grow from the responsible use of emerging technologies.


Author: Teodora Delcheva, Policy Assistant, Access Partnership

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