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  • Writer's pictureMarsali Hancock

Why Injecting Ethical Considerations in Innovations Via Standards is Critical to Humans

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

While sitting in an IGF IEEE workshop in Mexico, I listened to a remote presentation from John Havens about IEEE’s Ethically Aligned Design in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous systems. I sat riveted while John provided context about how Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and robots use and create data, and the potentially life-long implications of how data is found, used, and shared.

John challenged us to imagine a world where the new “green technology” is not only good for the planet, but the data is gathered and used ethically. He rallied us with the cry to build a movement that promotes “Green Technology.” Let ethical data practices be a measure of business success. With clear expectations, transparency, and accountability consumers are empowered to choose trust over rapid exponential growth. Tech companies sharing their values regarding personal information and data linked to communities have a market advantage.

Risks and Opportunities

For 15 years, my focus is creating safe and health digital environments, particularly for children, families, and students.

In 2004, web risks primarily came from unhealthy content, traumatic experiences via online communication, or grooming for exploitation and radicalization. Then, the interactive Web 2.0 of social media changed how and why we use devices. MySpace was a new startup. YouTube launched in 2005, and Facebook opened to everyone age 13 and above in 2006. With new abilities to communicate, collaborate, and interact with global communities both the opportunities and risks from the internet grew exponentially.

Over a decade later, the nearly ubiquitous data about us shapes the types of information we find and interact. It also shapes how this preselected information is presented, along with the types of opportunities available.

Algorithms contextualize our hopes, dreams, and fears predetermine the content that shows up on our screens. Digital media, including the ads, frame our social norms about the world. Even if we choose to step away from social media, the world around us continues to digitize our life journey.

The web does more than document our personal story; our digital story impacts our personalized digital media, shaping our paradigms and opportunities. Now, our data can put us at the risk of being excluded, not just socially, but from information. The threat of not knowing something because unknown algorithms withhold it.

As energy and automation fueled the Industrial revolution, data fuels the fourth Industrial revolution. Data is the new commodity! Embrace the reality that our personal information creates the commodity fueling economic growth and political power. The countries and companies with the most data, particularly quality and personal data about billions of people have the most power and potential to control and shape our future.

Just as the early conservationist, Teddy Roosevelt, called the alarm to create and protect national forests from the ravages of voracious deforestation, likewise, we need new data advocates to call the alarm to protect people from potentially harmful data practices. In Teddy Roosevelt’s Confession of Faith Speech, Progressive National Convention, Chicago, IL, August 6, 1912, he states, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.” Today, data governance is one of the most important issues in our generation.

Injecting ethics to innovation via standards

To move toward safe, accountable care for data, we must develop global standards that help us to prioritize ethical considerations in innovation and ensure that technology works to the benefit of more and more humans around the world.

The IEEE Standard for Child and Student Data Governance and the Standard for Personal Data Artificial Intelligence (AI) Agent, are both excellent examples of efforts to incorporate historically overlooked aspects of human wellbeing in the design and manufacture of the innovations that are shaping our world.

The standards are designed to provide organizations handling data governance-oriented processes and certifications that guarantee the transparency and accountability of their actions as it relates to the safety and wellbeing of individuals. They are also designed to enable individuals to safely organize and share their personal data at a machine-readable level and allow a personalized AI to act as a proxy for machine-to-machine decisions.

The opportunities and challenges we face are enormous, but neither the technology nor its impact should be beyond our reach. We have the great responsibility of controlling and shaping innovation by putting people’s needs and ethics first. In the end, we are the ones creating the technology and the only ones that have the control to develop comprehensive and globally shared standards that empower people to make informed and ethical choices about their data, and that put them at the center of their own evolution.

As chair of IEEE Standards on Child and Student Governance, I invite you to participate. Learn more at Injecting Ethical Considerations in Innovation via Standards - Keeping Humans in the AI Loop.

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