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A Pathway Towards AI Ethics

We can probably agree that “Ethical Artificial Intelligence” is a desirable goal. But getting there can involve daunting leaps over unfamiliar terrain. What do principles like “beneficence” and “non-maleficence” mean in practice? Indeed, what is, and is not, AI?

Working with the British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association (BILETA), Jisc’s National Centre for AI has mapped an alternative route, taking smaller steps through more familiar ground, towards that goal. This involves two key insights. First, that the intuitions and practice of the broad education community will usually guide us towards responsible and ethical actions and away from unethical ones. And, second, that discussing more familiar questions can help us discover those intuitions and practices.

Or, to put it another way, unethical actions are usually bad for other reasons, too.

Our “Pathway Towards Responsible, Ethical AI” considers four key questions for any proposal that relies on data or algorithms; suggests groups – including students, tutors, minorities, and boards – with whom they can most usefully be discussed; and links to resources that can provide a framework for those discussions:

  • “Does this proposal fit our institution’s objectives?” clarifies what we are trying to achieve and why; whether it is likely to work; and how it relates to the institution’s mission;
  • “Does using AI fit our institution’s culture?” considers how policy-makers have viewed similar uses of algorithms and data; their compatibility with our local culture; and whether they are likely to be welcomed or resisted;
  • “Are we ready?” looks at both institutional readiness – in terms of skills, systems, data and trust – and whether suppliers can provide services appropriate to that level of readiness;
  • “Does AI raise specific issues?” considers what the application and context require – in terms of control, explanation, bias and learning – from any technology that may be used.

Finally, for ideas that make it this far, the Pathway reviews how tools from law, technology and ethics can support a successful deployment. It’s only this stage that requires specialist knowledge: the four questions are much more about human and institutional experience.

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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