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BCS urges universities to push ethics standards on AI masters degrees

Ethics is a key requirement blue-chip firms will look for in artificial intelligence MSc graduates

A study by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, has urged university departments running master of science (MSc) courses in artificial intelligence (AI) to sign up to ethics standards.

The BCS’s Scaling up the ethical artificial intelligence MSc pipeline report recommended that the UK should develop and maintain ethical and professional AI standards.

The study, which was based on interviews with 50 universities and several blue-chip businesses, warned that every computing student, of whatever gender, ethnicity or social background, was being held back academically and professionally by a lack of diversity and inclusivity in the culture and learning environment.

The study stated: “For AI MSc programmes to deliver the best student outcomes, fully support the UK Industrial Strategy and provide value for money, the issues around diversity and inclusivity must be dealt with. There is a growing body of evidence-based solutions that could help with this issue: we recommend that they are implemented as a matter of urgency.”

Given the potential impact of AI on so much of the modern world, the BCS report recommended that all AI practitioners have the competencies necessary to ethically design, ethically develop, ethically deploy, ethically manage and ethically maintain AI products and services.

“It is essential that AI MSc graduates should be able to evidence they have the ethical competencies necessary to significantly contribute towards embedding ethical principles throughout the AI product/service lifecycle. Independent accreditation of AI MSc courses could be one useful mechanism for encouraging the embedding of an ‘ethical by design’ approach within curricula, as part of a range of incentives for universities to adopt this approach,” the study concluded.

Bill Mitchell, director of policy at BCS, and author of the report, said: “Whilst we as a nation have the capacity and capability to make this happen, it’s going to need us to work together to achieve sufficient scale. It’ll need innovation from universities and employers in how they equip graduates with both professional skills and academic knowledge. It’s going to mean getting serious about resolving gender diversity, and it’s going to need our profession to be very clear about the ethical and professional standards that are expected from AI practitioners.”

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