Navigating the Ethical Landscape of Artificial Intelligence: A Collective Responsibility

Artificial intelligence is a rapidly growing field with tremendous potential to improve our lives in countless ways. However, as we continue to develop more advanced algorithmic decision-maker systems, it’s important to consider the ethical implications of this technology. Researchers and practitioners in the field of AI ethics are working to ensure that AI is developed in a way that is fair, transparent, and responsible.

  • Some of the major current research interests around AI ethics include topics like bias, discrimination, and fairness. AI systems can inadvertently perpetuate societal biases and contribute to widespread discriminatory decisions if they are trained on data that is biased in some way. For example, a facial recognition system that is trained on a dataset of mostly white faces may not perform as well on faces of other ethnicities. Researchers are working to develop techniques to detect and mitigate bias in AI systems, which is usually understood as fairness.
  • Another area of interest is the issue of explainability. As AI systems become more complex, it can be difficult to understand how they make decisions. This can be a problem in situations where the consequences of an algorithmic decision-making system’s decisions are significant, such as in healthcare or justice administration. Researchers are working to develop methods for making AI systems more transparent and explainable so that their decision-making processes can be better understood.
  • A further ethical concern with AI is its impact on jobs and employment. Some researchers argue that automation powered by AI will disrupt many jobs, leading to job losses and social dislocation. Researchers are looking into ways to mitigate this negative impact.
  • Finally, autonomy is another key area of concern. As AI systems become more capable, they may be able to make decisions on their own, with little or no human supervision. This raises questions about accountability and responsibility. Researchers are working to determine accountability and remedies in scenarios where algorithmic decision-making is present.

Overall, AI has the potential to greatly benefit society, but it’s important to consider the ethical implications of this type of technology. By working to ensure that AI is developed in a fair, transparent, and responsible manner, we can maximize its benefits while minimizing its risks.

Risks of algorithmic decision-making

When we are unaware of the risks of blindly trusting algorithmic decision-making, we may be at risk of accepting decisions made by AI systems without fully understanding how or why they were made. This can lead to several problems:

  1. Bias: As mentioned earlier above, AI systems may perpetuate societal biases if they are trained on data that is biased in some way. To use a different example from the one already mentioned, consider a job recruitment algorithm that is trained on resumes from mostly male candidates, it will surely be less likely to recommend female candidates.
  2. Lack of accountability: If we don’t understand how an AI system is making decisions, it can be difficult to hold anyone accountable for its actions. This can be a problem in situations where the consequences of an AI system’s decisions are significant, such as in healthcare or criminal justice.
  3. Lack of transparency: Without an understanding of how an AI system is making decisions, it can be difficult to ensure that it is operating in a fair and just manner. This can lead to mistrust in the technology and its results.
  4. Lack of trust: If people do not trust the results of AI-driven decisions, they may be less likely to act on them. This can be a problem in cases where the decisions are important, such as in emergency situations.
  5. Unintended consequences: Without understanding how an AI system is making decisions, it can be difficult to anticipate and address any unintended consequences of its decisions.

To mitigate these risks, it’s important to be aware of the limitations and potential biases in AI systems and to develop methods for making them more transparent, explainable, and accountable. Additionally, it’s important to have human oversight and decision-making in the loop to ensure that the AI system is being used in an ethical and responsible manner.

Responsible AI 

The development of ethical AI is a collective responsibility that involves various stakeholders, including:

  • AI researchers and practitioners: These individuals are responsible for designing and building AI systems that should be ethical and fair. These actors should be familiar with the ethical implications of AI and take them into account during the development process.
  • Policymakers and regulators: These individuals are responsible for creating laws and regulations that govern the use of AI. They should ensure that AI is developed and used in a way that is consistent with societal values and protects individuals’ rights and interests. It can not be stressed enough the need and importance of Policymakers, regulators, and AI researchers and practitioners to work side by side.
  • Businesses and organizations: These entities are responsible for implementing and using AI in a way that is consistent with ethical principles. They should ensure that AI systems are transparent, fair, and accountable and that any negative impacts are minimized.
  • Civil society: This includes individuals, groups, and organizations that work to promote the public interest. They should help to raise awareness about the ethical implications of AI and advocate for policies that promote ethical AI development and use.
  • AI users: This includes individuals and organizations that use AI systems. They should be aware of the limitations and potential biases of AI systems and use them in an ethical and responsible manner.

It’s important to note that the responsibility for ethical AI is not just limited to the development stage, but it’s also important to ensure that the AI system is being used and maintained in an ethical way throughout its entire lifecycle.


Artificial Intelligence design guiding principles: Review of “Recommendation of the council on Artificial Intelligence”

(Image Taken from Pixabay)

The document ” Recommendations of the Council on Artificial Intelligence” was authored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and was published in France in May 2019. It aims to foster innovation and trust in AI by promoting the responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI while ensuring respect for human rights and democratic values; whose adherence would be ratified by the organization’s member countries, and some non-members such as: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Malta, Peru, Romania, and Ukraine.

Being joint authored, by members of a body that groups the efforts of the governments of several countries in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia: I have classified the author type as “Intergovernmental Organization”. Also, in the light of the objective pursued by the recommendations and the type of principles proposed, I have classified the document as “Policies Principles”. Both classifications will allow me to make future contrasts between documents and authors of the same type; enriching the analysis that I aim to present in this series of posts.

The Recommendation identifies five complementary values-based principles for the responsible

stewardship of trustworthy AI and calls on AI actors to promote and implement them:

  1. Inclusive Growth, Sustainable Development, and Well-being: proactively engage in responsible management of trustworthy artificial intelligence searching for benefits for people and the planet, increase human capacities and improve creativity, advance toward the inclusion of underrepresented populations by reducing economic, social, gender, and other inequalities; and in the protection of the natural environments,
  2. Human-Centred Values, and Fairness: respect the rule of law, human rights and democratic values during all the life cycle of the artificial intelligence solution –  freedom, dignity and autonomy, privacy and data protection, non-discrimination and equality, diversity, equity, social justice and work -; implementing mechanisms and safeguards, such as a human capacity for self-determination, that are appropriate to the context and consistent with the state of art,
  3. Transparency and Explainability: provide relevant information, appropriate to context and consistent with state of the art: (a) to  promote a general understanding of the operation of  AI systems,  (b) to enable stakeholders to be aware of their interactions with AI systems,  (c) to allow those affected by an artificial intelligence system to understand the outcome, and  (d) to allow those adversely affected by an AI system to challenge their outcome based on easy-to-understand information about the factors and logic that served as the basis for the prediction,  or  recommendation,
  4. Robustness, Security, and Safety: develop robust and  safe AI systems, and protect them  throughout their life cycle so that  –  under normal use, foreseeable use or misuse, or other adverse conditions  – the keep functioning properly without becoming a security risks; ensuring  traceability  towards  data sets, processes and decisions made, and  applying a systemic approach to risk management at every stage of the AI system lifecycle that includes factors such as:  privacy, digital security, security and bias; and,
  5. Accountability: make the AI actors accountable for the proper functioning of AI systems and its correspondence with the proposed principles, according to their roles, the context and consistent state of the art.

Additionally, a set of recommendations are made, as can be seen below, for the definition of national policies and international cooperation between the adherent countries in favors of trustworthy Artificial Intelligence:

  1. Investing in AI research and development,
  2. Fostering a digital ecosystem for AI,
  3. Shaping an enabling policy environment for AI,
  4. Building human capacity and preparing for labor market transformation, and
  5. International co-operation for trustworthy AI.

On this occasion will limit myself to only comment on the principles. Since the recommendations are aimed at public policymakers; and that is a context which I do not have enough experience in.

From my computer science background with hands-on experience in software project management, I find it difficult to adopt these principles as a methodological reference without them being subject to additional layers of interpretation, and integration into tools such as standards or checklists, to name a few examples. As I have already mentioned in other posts; on the one hand, standards would support the assurance of expected outcomes of the artificial intelligence solutions since early development stages in accordance with the framework scope delimited by the proposed principles; and, on the other hand, checklists are an effective tool in the verification stages, used to whereas the designed solution complied with the proposed principles – using the same examples -.

In that same line of thoughts, from my experience defining checklists, and as a member of international software development standards designing working groups, I can highlight the following elements:

  • The definition of the conceptual neighborhood for variables related with concepts such as: discrimination, bias, justice, and equity, in the context of artificial intelligence; that can serve as a frame of reference for the software developer at every stage – including maintenance – of the development process,
  • The operationalization of the concept of well-being as a dependent variable on the discriminatory or non-discriminatory nature of decisions based on decisions, predictions, and/or recommendations proposed by AI systems,
  • The operationalization of the concept of “natural environment friendly” as a dependent variable on the aggressive or non-aggressive nature of made decisions based on decisions, predictions, and/or recommendations proposed by AI systems,
  • The formalization of metrics aimed at evaluating how discriminatory or aggressive with the natural environment is a decision, prediction, and/or recommendation proposed by AI systems,
  • The definition of checklists to guide the developer of AI systems during the verification and measurement of these variables at every stage of the development process,
  • The demarcation of which values resulting from the measurements and what factors within the checklists triggers a formal review of the architecture baseline of the current version of the AI system being developed,
  • The demarcation of which values resulting from the measurements and of which factors within the checklists triggers a formal change request in the case of medium and large projects, with medium and high complexity,
  • The creation of a competent authority that continuously assesses the adequacy of the formalization of measurements to the corresponding social context, including that the causal elements of discrimination and other related terms are variable over time,
  • The operationalization of the variables on which human rights and the democratic values are based on which artificial intelligence solutions are expected to be in correspondence with,
  • The operationalization of “transparency” and “understanding” as dependent variables within the understanding of the methods used for data processing, which can be used in defining a metric that assesses the levels at which the understanding of the methods and the results of the AI system by potential stakeholders and auditors, can be expressed with, and
  • The definition of information management flows associated with the use of AI systems including the necessary elements (access policy to which piece of information, period of time the information will be available, for example) and moderating the communication between the stakeholder and the decision maker (regardless of the latter) to be incorporated – ex officio – in Report modules; helping those adversely affected by an AI system supported decision, to obtain relevant information and details of the decision.

As necessary intermediate layers towards the principle’s adoption as a methodological reference for the design of artificial intelligence solutions.

After an analysis of the language used in the document, in which I used the NLTK library and Python´s development environment for extracting the 50 most frequent n-grams from the charter´s body text it turned out that:

  • The uni-grams with relative frequencies greater than .50 units described the objective intended with the principles and recommendation proposal, or the variables in which they are expressed: policy (1.10), international (1.02), legal/ trustworthy/ development (.98), council/ principles/ work (.78), digital (.69), human (.65), operations/ stakeholders/ systems (.61), and responsible/ implementation/ systems (.57); in contrast with: stewardship/ rights/ inclusive/ sustainable/ recommendations (.33) that also being elements among the objectives pursued by the document are less represented along the text body.
  • The bi-grams, from their part, delimited the document´s field of action in the context described by the unigrams, exhibiting with higher relative frequencies the terms: trustworthy ai (.90), ai actors (.53), legal instruments/ international co-operation (.45), and responsible stewardship/ stewardship trustworthy (.33). Although, other variables such as risk management/ growth sustainable/ security safety/ digital ecosystem/ privacy data/ and ai government exhibit minimum relative frequency values with 0.16 units each.
  • The tri-grams, similarly, exhibit a greater representation of the terms linked to the macro-objective of the document with: international co-operation instruments (.45), responsible stewardship trustworthy/ ai systems lifecycle (.33); while the pursued objectives are less represented: human centred values/centred values fairness/ robustness security safety/ investing ai research/ fostering digital ecosystem/ building human capacity, preparing labor market/ practical guidance recommendations (.12) and, artificial intelligence first/ first intergovernmental standard (.08).

I would like to conclude by saying that the recommendations of the council on AI addressed in this post, along with other documents I am including in this series; constitute an effort to solve some of the ethical problems rooted in the design and use of artificial intelligence solutions. In this case, specifically in the context of public policy; the remaining documents will include other scenarios. Also, I would like to add that, with this reading exercise I seek to draw attention to the opportunity of public policy designers and designers of artificial intelligence solutions to collaborate in the achievement of a common goal: what is the responsible design of artificial intelligence.

If you are interested about this topic and have any idea that complements this review of the Recommendations of the Council on Artificial Intelligence let me know with a comment.