Computerworld

AI ethics debate urgent say Aussie business chiefs and academics

Oversight lacking and regulatory progress slow, experts say

“Old, dumb law [is] struggling to keep up” with the rapid progress being made in artificial intelligence, say a group of Australian business leaders and academics who are calling for greater ethical oversight of the technologies.

In an open letter published today, the group – featuring the likes of 3A Institute director Genevieve Bell, CSIRO chairperson David Thodey and three KPMG executives – call for “urgent dialogue” on the trust and human rights challenges presented by AI.

They also raise the need of a “governing body responsible for setting standards and guidelines for the ethical use of AI that would inform self-regulation and guide government regulation”.

“To truly harness the potential that AI promises, we need to lean in to its risks and challenges. A conversation about this organising body should focus on how it will debate and advocate for the big decisions Australia faces when it comes to AI, both as a nation and as part of an interconnected global community,” the letter states.

That conversation will begin, the signatories say, at an event – the Artificial Intelligence Forum – which takes place in Sydney on February 7.

University of New South Wales Scientia Professor Ross Buckley, AI start-up H2 Ventures founding partner Toby Heap and University of Queensland Professor in Management Nicole Gillespie are among those putting their name to the letter.

“Now is the time to recognise the opportunities, concerns and expectations in terms of the potential impact of AI on the future of our workforce, income, privacy, agency, bias and accountability…and start to address them,” the letter says.

Responsible development

Gartner forecasts that global business value derived from AI will total US$1.2 trillion in 2018, which it says is an increase of 70 per cent from 2017. AI-derived business value is forecast to reach $3.9 trillion in 2022.

Data61 reports that AI and related technologies’ growth could be worth $315 billion to the Australian economy over the next decade.

Many companies – particularly those considered early adopters of AI – are establishing internal AI ethics committees to appraise their efforts. An SAS/Accenture/Intel survey found that out of the Australian companies that have already adopted AI in some form, 72 per cent have established such a committee (slightly higher than the global average of 70 per cent).

Insurer IAG in December announced it was founding, with CSIRO’s Data61 and the University of Sydney, a research institute with an aim to create a ‘world where all systems behave ethically’.

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) established an AI ethics committee last year.

In its May Budget, the federal government said it would fund the development of a “technology roadmap” and “standards framework” for AI as well as a national AI Ethics Framework. Together they will “help identify opportunities in AI and machine learning for Australia and support the responsible development of these technologies.”

The Victorian Government in March launched an all-party parliamentary group to consider the policy challenges and opportunities presented by AI.