Europe publishes stance on AI ethics, but don’t expect much

The European Commission has revealed its latest white paper detailing guidelines on an ethical and trustworthy approach to AI, but whether it actually means anything remains to be seen.

The guidelines themselves are now open for public comment with the Gaggle of Red Tapers seeking feedback on how to make improvements and increase applicability to the world of today. However, the industry continues to operate under the semblance of oversight but in the reality of the digital wild-west.

Such is the top-line nature of the guidelines, you have to wonder whether there have been any real efforts to integrate the thinking into business. At the moment, the guidelines do not seem to have any substance to them, simply stating the obvious, or at least what you would hope is obvious to the developers creating the algorithms and applications. These guidelines would have been useful 2-3 years ago, but now it seems a bit of a redundant statement. AI regulation needs action not philosophical thinking.

After reading the guidelines, there is a sense of ‘so what’. What was the point in making this statement aside from cosmetically attracting headlines for the European Commission? There doesn’t seem to be anything new in there, just the European Commission making a statement for the sake of making a statement.

The seven guidelines are as follows:

  1. Humans should have oversight of AI at all times
  2. AI systems need to be resilient and secure
  3. Governance measures should be introduced to protect privacy
  4. Transparency should be ensured
  5. Bias should be removed
  6. AI should benefit all
  7. Accountability for AI should be introduced

Having the guidelines is all well-and-good, there needs to be a yard-stick, but we would expect at the least for some sort of accountability model. It seems a bit half-arsed at the moment as there are still numerous questions.

Firstly, how is the European Commission going to judge whether these guidelines are being followed by industry? What will the metrics be? What will be the punishments for not taking the principles into account or negligible behaviour? Where are the reporting mechanisms for ‘unethical’ behaviour and complaints?

The next steps for the Commission is to consult with industry and run various pilot programmes across the bloc. After these initiatives have been completed, another consultation period will be entered into before the Commission will review the assessment lists for the key requirements in early 2020. At some point in the ill-defined future, Europe might have some rules on AI.

Considering the posturing which has taken place over the last couple of months, Europe has promised it will lead the world on AI, this announced seems nothing but superficial. These generic comments and guidelines should have been put out years ago, now is a time for action and a time for rules.

AI is already in the world and having a fundamental impact on our day-to-day lives. We might not realise it all the time, but it is increasingly interwoven into the services and products which we use each day. Now is the time for action from regulators, not posturing and pondering.

Europe looks to tackle the impossible task of ethics in AI

The European Commission (hereafter known as the Gaggle of Red-tapers) has announced plans to tackle one of the most complicated problems in technology; guidelines on AI ethics.

When it comes to AI this is perhaps one of the most important areas of development, and it’s about time someone decided to do something about it, but don’t expect this to be a smooth ride. Before the industry can even begin to utilise advanced ideas such as self-learning, self-governance and self-optimization in AI, you have to create broad and flexible set of rules which also build accountability.

“Step by step, we are setting up the right environment for Europe to make the most of what artificial intelligence can offer,” said Andrus Ansip, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market. “Data, supercomputers and bold investment are essential for developing artificial intelligence, along with a broad public discussion combined with the respect of ethical principles for its take-up. As always with the use of technologies, trust is a must.”

Unfortunately for the Gaggle by demonstrating its traditional razor sharp agility and impeccable speed in reacting to trends, the AI world has already advanced considerable over the last 12 months. The group will have to build rules and guidelines for work which has already been done. It might have to sacrifice some ideals as this would involve unravelling evolution which has already been made, or force technologists to climb back down a couple of rungs on the ladder of progress to make corrections. Neither situation is what you would consider great.

This is of course incredibly important work which should not be taken on lightly. While artificial intelligence has the power to contribute greatly to society, it will also have a negative impact. Jobs will be lost, careers ruined, companies made redundant and laws significantly altered. There will be a very profound impact on society, which is why we are so surprised it took so long for this project to kick off.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the Gaggle will face here is that of agreement. Getting 27 member states to agree on some of the simplest of ideas is a complicated job, but when you ask them to agree on such a profound and (potentially) controversial topic the challenges are only compounded. The timelines are short, the Gaggle want the project completed by the end of the year, so we are a bit nervous.

The timelines might well be internally appointed but don’t think there won’t be external pressure. The calls for more intelligence solutions are getting louder from pretty much all verticals and the Gaggle estimates the global market for artificial intelligence in 2022 is estimated at some $20–24 billon. Irrelevant as to whether stringent rules and guidelines are required, bureaucrats cannot be seen to be holding back the tides of progress. Industry is calling for the solutions and the European Commission cannot afford to stand in the way.