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Building blocks for trustworthy AI in education

[UPDATE: my slides are now available]

This week I’ve been presenting at an event on Artificial Intelligence in Education, organised by the Finnish Government in their current role as EU Presidency. Specifically I was asked to look at where we might find building blocks for the ethical use of AI in education.

Looking at the EU High Level Experts Group list of Principles and Requirements for Trustworthy AI, it seems that the General Data Protection Regulation can be a significant building block. At least seven of their eleven “ethical” issues are already covered by the GDPR, which means both that ethics is a legal requirement, and that we have a lot of guidance both from the law itself and from regulators’ guidance on how to implement it.

That seems to leave three areas: whether we should do things at all (the HLEG call this Societal and Environmental Wellbeing); whether we should let machines do it (though the GDPR does suggest some guidance on “automated decision making”); and, if so, how much and what kind of explanation of those decisions we should require. To make those a little more concrete we looked at three specific questions: should students be allowed to use AI to tell them which passages to study in order to pass their exams; should we let AI decide which students are accepted onto an over-subscribed course; and whether teachers need to have a complete understanding of how an AI predicts grades, or just the factors that affected each student’s prediction. Answers to all of these turned out to be highly dependent on detail, confirming that we do, indeed, need some ethical principles on which to base our answers.

As to where we might find those, there are plenty of ethics codes available (one speaker thought around a hundred!); there may also be GDPR-based guidance (the UK Information Commissioner has just published a 150 page draft on explainability); and I suggested we might need to keep in mind the UN Human Rights Convention’s statement of the purpose of education: “the full development of human personality”.

In summing up, Ari Korhonen from Aalto University reminded us of the essential need to maintain trust, and suggested that it might be useful to review how we retain that when delegating tasks to other humans, for example using teaching assistants or external examiners.

By Andrew Cormack

I'm Chief Regulatory Advisor at Jisc, responsible for keeping an eye out for places where our ideas, services and products might raise regulatory issues. My aim is to fix either the product or service, or the regulation, before there's a painful bump!

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