UK could lead on ethical AI, say industry experts

Britain could lead the world in creating AI that cares about humanity, provided more people from non-tech backgrounds join the field, a report by the professional body for the IT industry has found.

Public trust in AI would also grow quickly if the government and industry help a more diverse range of talent move into AI-related jobs, the study by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said.

As the dominance of AI grows, greater ‘AI education’ in schools and opportunities for adults to re-skill will be needed urgently to keep pace and close a growing digital divide, the BCS research recommended.

The report found a ‘wide variation in the level of competence and ethical practice’ of organisations using AI; for that reason, the government should develop new professional standards in AI across the public and private sectors, it said.

Examples of falling trust include last summer’s exam crisis, sparked when an algorithm was used to estimate grades. A follow-up survey found 53 per cent of UK adults had no faith in any organisation to use algorithms to make judgements about them.

The research also asked government and industry to work together to ensure AI helps reach the goal of net-zero.

“The UK should set the ‘gold standard’ for professional and ethical AI, as a critical part of our economic recovery,” said lead author of the report, Dr Bill Mitchell, director of policy at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. “We all deserve to have understanding, and confidence in, AI, as it affects our lives over the coming years; to get there, the profession should be known as a go-to place for men and women from a diverse range of backgrounds, who reflect the needs of everyone they are engineering software for.”

Mitchell said that that might include credit scoring apps, cancer diagnoses based on training data, or software that decides if you get a job interview or not.

“It’s about developing a highly skilled, ethical and diverse workforce - and a political class - that understands AI well enough to deliver the right solutions for society,” added the director of policy. “That will take a strong leadership from the government and access to digital skills training across the board.”

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