In this Royal Society paper, the authors argue that, while there is no shortage of sound ethical principles in robotics and AI, there is little evidence that those principles have yet translated into practice, i.e. effective and transparent ethical governance. Ethical practice starts with the individual, and emerging professional codes of ethical conduct. As a starting point for discussion they propose five pillars of good ethical governance.

Ethical governance is essential to building trust in robotics and artificial intelligence systems

Alan F. T. Winfield and Marina Jirotka
Published: 15 October 2018

– Publish an ethical code of conduct, so that everyone in the organization understands what is expected of them. This should sit alongside a ‘whistleblower’ mechanism which allows employees to be able to raise ethical concerns (or ‘responsible disclosure’), if necessary in confidence via an ombudsperson, without fear of displeasing a manager.
– Provide ethics and RI training for everyone, without exception. Ethics and responsible innovation, like quality, is not something that can be implemented as an add-on; simply appointing an ethics manager, for instance, while not a bad idea, is not enough.
– Practice responsible innovation, including the engagement of wider stakeholders within a framework of anticipatory governance (using for instance the AREA framework [19,23,26]). Within that framework, undertake ethical risk assessments of all new products, and act upon the findings of those assessments. A toolkit, or method, for ethical risk assessment of robots and robotic systems exists in British Standard BS 8611 [18], and new process standards, such as IEEE P7000 Model process for addressing ethical concerns during system design, are in draft.
– Be transparent about ethical governance. Of course, robots and AIs must be transparent too, but here we mean transparency of process, not product. It is not enough for an organization to claim to be ethical; it must also show how it is ethical. This could mean an organization publishing its ethical code of conduct, membership of its ethics board if it has one (and its terms of reference), and ideally case studies showing how it has conducted ethical risk assessments alongside wider processes of anticipatory governance—these might be part of an annual transparency report.
– Really value ethical governance. Even if an organization has the four processes above in place, it—and especially its senior managers—also needs to be sincere about ethical governance; that ethical governance is one of its core values and just not a smokescreen for what it really values (like maximizing shareholder returns).

To read the full article

© 2018 The Authors.

The Royal Society’s fundamental purpose, reflected in its founding Charters of the 1660s, is to recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity.

Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.

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