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TechUK: Digital ethics has to hit the boardroom this year

UK IT industry lobby organisation releases a position paper contending that digital ethics must become a boardroom matter in 2019

TechUK has published a call to action paper on digital ethics. The IT industry lobby organisation says the topic needs to move from the conference room to the boardroom in 2019.

One of eight necessary actions identified by the paper is to “think digital ethics, not just AI [artificial intelligence] ethics”. The body’s deputy CEO, Antony Walker, said: “The paper reflects an imperative need to move digital ethics from debate to action.

“If we are going to build greater public trust and confidence in technological innovations, we must demonstrate how digital ethics can deliver real answers to real concerns.

“This is the year when we need to move digital ethics out of the conference room and into the boardroom and business practices of organisations across the country.”

Digital ethics has been a prominent issue in the UK IT community over the past year or so. In relation to AI, it was brought into focus by a House of Lords Select Committee report on the place of AI in the UK economic strategy, published in April 2018. This argued that ethics could be a specialist area for the UK to concentrate on in the global field of AI, dominated as it is by the US and China.

And digital ethics was given greater salience last year by the controversy surrounding the use of social media data in political campaigning – especially in relation to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US president. The Cambridge Analytica controversy was a byword for such matters.

The TechUK paper is said to be an aid to ensuring “digital ethics is regarded as relevant and beneficial to the real lives people lead”. Among other things, it advocates demonstrating “how ethics is having an impact”, embedding “ethical decision-making in business decision- making” and ensuring “regulators have the capability and capacity needed to consider ethics”. It also restates the Lords idea about the UK playing “a role in the international ethics debate”.

The paper cites TechUK’s digital ethics summit, held, for the second year, in December, and looks forward to its third summit at the end of 2019.

The paper notes what it calls a “significant increase in the amount of activity in the field of digital ethics”, adding: “This includes the creation of new bodies and institutions such as the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the Ada Lovelace Institute; and the publication of landmark reports, including the House of Lords AI report.”

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Under the heading “Think digital ethics, not just AI”, the paper states: “TechUK believes the digital ethics debate should widen from simply focusing on AI and look to identify issues that could arise from the long-term adoption and deployment of other advanced digital technologies, whether used independently or in contributions with each other.”

And while it lauds the work of the Information Commissioner’s Office, it also states: “Given the reach and scope of advanced digital technologies, now is the time for other regulators to also become informed and active in the digital ethics debate.” And it welcomes “the recent announcement by the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy of a £10m Regulators’ Pioneer Fund to help ensure rules and regulations keep pace with technological advances”.

On the international front, TechUK says it “would like to see the UK government, specifically the Office of AI and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation allocate resources to being active and visible in the international digital ethics debate”.

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