Digital age ‘desperately’ needs ethical and legal guidelines

Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics, ‘desperately’ need an institutional framework and system of values to help regulate the industry, an ethics expert has told leading scientists and policymakers.

Jeroen van den Hoven, professor of ethics and technology at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, was speaking at a session on ethics in science and technology at the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2018, which is being held in Toulouse, France, from 9-14 July.

‘People are becoming aware that this digital age is not neutral…, it is presented to us mainly by big corporations who want to make some profit,’ he said.

He called for a Europe-wide network of institutions that can provide a set of values, based on the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the technology industry could operate within.

‘We have to set up, as we’ve done for food, for aviation and for traffic, … an elaborate system of institutions that will look (at) this field of artificial intelligence.

‘We need to think about governance, inspection, monitoring, testing, certification, classification, standardisation, education, all of these things. They are not there.  We need to desperately, and very quickly, help ourselves to it.’

Prof. van den Hoven is a member of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE), an independent advisory body for the European Commission, which organised the session he was speaking at.

In March, the EGE published a statement on artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and autonomous systems, which criticised the current ‘patchwork of disparate initiatives’ in Europe that try to tackle the social, legal and ethical questions that AI has generated. In the statement, the EGE called for the establishment of a structured framework.

The European Commission announced on 14 June that they have tasked a high-level group of 52 people from academia, society and industry with the job of developing guidelines on the EU’s AI-related policy, including ethical issues such as fairness, safety, transparency and the upholding of fundamental rights.

The expert group, which includes representatives from industry leaders in AI such as Google, BMW and Santander, are due to present their guidelines to the European Commission at the beginning of 2019.

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