Digital Ethics Summit Focuses on Practical Action

On Wednesday 13 December, techUK’s Digital Ethics Summit brought together experts from industry, government, academia and third sector to discuss the importance of ethics in digital innovation and the practical steps that can be taken to ensure that the development and use of new technologies supports human flourishing.

The techUK Summit was organised in partnership with the Royal Statistical Society, Wellcome Trust, Royal Society, British Academy, University of Oxford Data Ethics Lab, Open Data Institute, the Alan Turing Institute and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. It was sponsored by Microsoft, The Nuffield Foundation and Yoti.

Opening the Summit, Antony Walker, Deputy CEO of techUK said that the purpose of the day wasn’t to make the case for digital ethics but to identify practical next steps to embed ethical decision making into digital innovation at a time when technologies are becoming more intelligent and more pervasive. He urged attendees to think practically about the capacity and capabilities needed to address big issues being raised and the role that different organisations should play.

Martha Lane Fox then delivered a powerful keynote questioning the impact of the digital innovation over the last 20 years. Whilst stressing the positive potential of tech she argued that the discussion on ethics shouldn’t be just forward looking but should be focused on fixing some of the problems that have emerged as a consequence of rapid and sometimes careless innovation.

Echoing the call for practical action Martha highlighted the importance of creating a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges that need to be faced and stressed the vital importance of industry, civil society, and politics coming together “on a level that we have never seen before” and challenged everyone in the room to start to act now to make this happen. She highlighted gender balance, the impact of technology on children and childhood, and ethical and sustainable sourcing in supply chains as key areas of focus.

The first panel discussion considered the current landscape and how we set about answering the big ethical questions. Kicking off the panel including Professor Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information, Director of the Digital Ethics Lab Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said there were four key issues to consider to ensure ethical foresight: delegation, responsibility, manipulation and prudence. Dr Claire Craig, Director of Science Policy, Royal Society highlighted the importance of considering general ethical questions as well as the context specific issues and the need to move between the two. Considering where we are today Dr Stephen Cave, Executive Director, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, University of Cambridge argued that “We are not nearly as prepared as we should be for the profundity of the impact of new digital tech on society as we know it today” and highlighted the need to build global consensus to address the issues that need to be faced. George Zarkadakis, Digital Lead, Willis Towers Watson followed by suggesting the need to rethink the agile methodology when working with intelligent systems that may lead to unintended consequences. Rob McCargow, Programme Leader, Artificial Intelligence, PwC outlined the impressive and diverse AI community that has developed in the UK during 2017 and called upon everyone to act in 2018 to set the highest standards for the ethics of AI and become the world leader in this endeavor.

The panel was followed by a fireside chat between Antony Walker and The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Minister of State for Digital in which the Minister talked about the importance of using the power of AI for the good of society with robust ethical considerations. The Minister outlined the focus of the new Centre for Data Ethics, “First is leadership, second is regulation, third we must develop data infrastructure". Considering the opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in addressing digital ethics the Minister highlighted the Oxford Insight Government AI Readiness Index for AI readiness where the UK has been ranked number 1. While agreeing that there may be challenges with Brexit the Minister closed by stressing that the UK now has an opportunity to be nimble and change things domestically where necessary to lead.

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Next Carolyn Nguyen, Director, Technology Policy, Microsoft provided an inspiring presentation which outlined the vast applications of AI and the sheer economic and societal value that these digital technologies can make to people’s lives. In her address Carolyn also offered views on some of the social, legal and ethical challenges AI raises and in light of the theme of the Summit, set out practical approaches taken by Microsoft to address these issues and key next steps to addressing ethical issues being faced today and in the future.

After a busy networking lunch the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham began her afternoon keynote speech by saying that it is right to discuss ethics, data and innovation in one conversation. By outlining the ICO’s role in the digital ethics space, the ICO explained that many issues involving ethics involve personal data and that that “ethics is at the route of privacy”. Looking to the very near future, and a GDPR driven world, Elizabeth predicted that “there will be a convergence of data protection and data ethics” and that the ICO will continue to work with other regulators to coordinate work in the data ethics space. In closing Elizabeth Denham expressed a want for ethical considerations to be firmly embedded in the data protection framework.

An industry led panel on how to embed an ethics by design approach to digital innovation followed. Chaired by Hetan Shah, Executive Director, The Royal Statistical Society attendees heard input from companies including Sage, Facebook, Yoti, Improbable and CognitionX on how an ethics by design approach is already being taken by organisations today. Kicking the panel off Robin Tombs, CEO, Yoti explained his approach to embedding ethical thinking into innovations in digital identity and explained why he thinks better design by more companies when it comes to digital ethics is key. James Kidner, Director of Partnership, Improbable followed by making it clear that ethics issues are really complicated and that it is not a simple case of 'good or bad ethics'. Tabitha Goldstaub, Co-Founder, Cognitionx highlighted that many people still do not want to talk about ethical issues but it is vital that we do. She also stressed the importance of ensuring that “ethnic minorities and diversity is represented in AI” in data and the workforce. Kriti Sharma, VP Artificial Intelligence, Sage also highlighted the importance ensuring executive teams throughout an organisation understand and sign up to the importance of ensuring the design, accountability and transparency of algorithms and the need to get more people, particularly in the US, talking about digital ethics. Stephen Deadman, Global Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, Facebook focused his remarks on the importance of the incoming GDPR which will have large implications for the future and explained that Facebook will be running a 'design jam' on algorithms in the new year bringing different experts together.

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The final keynote of the Summit was provided by Tim Gardam, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Foundation who set out a proposal for the creation by the Nuffield Foundation of an independent Convention on Data Ethics and Artificial Intelligence. In his address Tim explained that the new Convention has three objectives: to be a global leader in ethical data use; promote a common set of practices; and develop shared terminology for data ethics to promote human flourishing. The Convention will also be based on a number of interlocking principles including being independent of government or any vested interest; ensuring a plurality of approaches from a range of disciplines and perspectives; and a bias towards impact. To test and inform the proposal outlined at the Summit Tim Gardam also announced that workshops would be held in the New Year with Tech UK, as well as with a wider community to help guide thinking and address any immediate questions.

The final panel of the day discussed how to position the UK for global leadership in addressing digital ethics, what is already happening and also what might be missing. In his opening remarks Ollie Buckley, Deputy Director, Digital Charter & Data Ethics, DCMS highlighted the investment being made by the UK Government in the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. He also highlighted the UK’s strength in the social sciences community and the need for this community to engage in the digital sector moving forward. Dr Natalie Banner, Policy Advisor, Wellcome Trust outlined the need to better engage with the public particularly on the ethical issues facing diverse groups and the importance of recognising that "One person's innovative new product is another person's invasion of privacy.” Richard Ward, Government and Regulatory Affairs, IBM followed by highlighting that the UK has strengths in its regulatory bodies that already exist but stressed that regulation is not “the whole picture” in the development of digital ethics particularly in AI. Dr Jeni Tennison OBE, CEO, ODI focused on the opportunity for the UK in becoming a world leader in ensuring there is equity in how data is distributed and who can use data and why taking such an approach is important to develop ethical outcomes and trust.

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Bringing the Summit to the close Antony Walker highlighted the clear interest in digital ethical issues shown by those attending the Summit and the fact that the Summits hashtag #AIethics was trending throughout the day on Twitter. While welcoming the progress made during 2017, with the creation of new entities by the Government and Nuffield Foundation, Antony stressed the need to now ensure that the UK has the capacity and capabilities needed to build greater confidence that ethical issues are being address in a responsible way. Explaining that it will be businesses that will ultimately make this happen, Antony emphasized that the research community, academia, civil society and citizens groups can and must also play a role. He argued that working out the exact nature and form that the proposed new bodies will play is a key next step and where progress must be made over the next few months.

Looking head into 2018 Antony highlighted techUK’s ongoing commitment to working on digital ethics issues and an intention to hold the techUK Digital Ethics Summit in 2018 to assess the progress made over during the year ahead.

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