This year has provided an almost constant stream of controversies to remind businesses of the crucial importance of their ethical approach to technology. When oversights are made in the early design and build stage, or in maintenance and reporting, hidden ethical and operational costs reveal themselves further down the line.
Take the recent case of the UK’s AI decision-making system used for processing visa applications. Since rollout, the AI tool has been dismissed by campaigners as ‘speedy boarding for white people’; Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, has since pledged a new visa system that will consider ‘unconscious bias’. This is an example of a lack of rigour in the early design process, and now the UK government must sustain the cost of scrapping and redesigning the system.
For another high-profile example, look no further than Amazon’s failed recruitment engine. Amazon’s machine learning specialists discovered soon into implementation that the tool was showing bias against women. Again, a timely and costly project was scrapped due to a lack of ethical prescience and less-than-rigorous review of the data.
We are being given constant reminders that unless ethical considerations are prioritised, a moral and operational disaster – not to mention a PR storm – awaits. Putting in the work up front to design an accountable human-centric process, with thorough consideration for end users and potential biases, will mean that this can all be avoided. As the saying goes: hindsight is a wonderful thing, but foresight is better.
It isn’t just in the field of AI that the need for ethical considerations arises but in many different aspects of design, implementation and application of technology; for example, the lack of transparency in how customers’ data is used when they sign up for an on-line service, or unintended consequences of apps that can lead to coercive control of its consumers.
Technology will increasingly help us do things more easily as well as deliver exciting new products, but without an ethical framework that evolves in step with advances in technology, we will be caught out time and again by its unintended consequences. An ethical-by-design approach will help minimise the negative impact of technology on people and the planet, and we expect it to become a standard approach in the near future.
Introducing our ETA framework
It’s with these concerns in mind that we launch our new Ethics in Technology Assessment (ETA). Over six weeks, we’ll work with you to collect information about your current approach to ethics in technology. Using our ETA framework, we analyse the information to produce a report with our assessment of your current state, as well as short- and long-term recommendations to address the key areas that present risks.
The assessment is designed to provide a high-level but rounded view of the state of digital ethics in your organisation. The framework consists of five building blocks:
- Use of data: This goes beyond regulatory compliance to fair practices in handling and managing clients’ data
- Fairness in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and algorithms: Guidance and embedded good practice in the use of AI and algorithms
- Democratisation of digital skills: Removing the fear of unknown complex technology by making product information and learning accessible to interested parties and clients
- Employee enablement: Employee engagement and understanding of new technologies, and levels of corporate handholding to enable them to do their jobs better, and use advanced technologies considerately and productively
- Culture and mindset: The extent of adoption of ethical digital practices across the organisation, from leadership teams making strategic decisions, to employees working in front- and back offices.
At the end of the six-week period you’ll get an actionable and impartial assessment of where you are in your journey to being a digitally ethical business, as well as clarity on what to do to improve and/or mitigate risks.
Technology vendors are already seeing the need for ETA, with their clients having started to ask questions about their algorithms and use of data. We are delighted to welcome WorkFusion, one of the most innovative vendors in the Intelligent Automation space, onboard to take part in ETA.
Head to the service page for a more in-depth outline, or get in touch to find out more about getting started on your ETA programme.