On Responsible AI. Interview with Kay Firth-Butterfield,World Economic Forum.
“I think that many companies need to understand that their customers are worried about the use of AI and then act accordingly. I believe they should set up ethics advisory boards and then follow the advice or internal teams to advise on what they should do and take that advise.”
I have interviewed Kay Firth-Butterfield, Head of Artificial Intelligence and member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum. We talked about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and in particular, we discussed responsible AI, trustworthy AI and AI ethics.
Q1. You are the Head of Artificial Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum. What is your mission at the World Economic Forum?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: We are committed to improving the state of the world.
Q2. Could you summarize for us what are in your opinion the key aspects of the beneficial and challenging technical, economic and social changes arising from the use of AI?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: The potential benefits of AI being used across government, business and society are huge. For example using AI to help find ways of educating the uneducated, giving healthcare to those without it and helping to find solutions to climate change. Both embodied in robots and in our computers it can help keep the elderly in their homes and create adaptive energy plans for air conditioning so that we use less energy and help keep people safe. Apparently some 8800 people died of heat in US last year but only around 450 from hurricanes. Also, it helps with cyber security and corruption. On the other side, we only need to look at the fact that over 190 organisations have created AI principles and the EU is aiming to regulate use of AI and the OHCHR has called for a ban on AI which affects human rights to know that there are serious problems with the way we use the tech, even when we are careful.
Q3. The idea of responsible AI is now mainstream. But why when it comes to operationalizing this in the business, companies are lagging behind?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: I think they are worried about what regulations will come and the R&D which they might lose from entering the market too soon. Also, many companies don’t know enough about the reasons why they need AI. CEOs are not envisaging the future of the company with AI which, if available is often left to a CTO. It is still hard to buy the right AI for you and know whether it is going to work in the way it is intended or leave an organisation with an adverse impact on its brand. Boards often don’t have technologists and so they can help the CEO think through the use of AI for good or ill. Finally, its is hard to find people with the right skills. I think this may be helped by remote working when people don’t have to locate to a country which is reluctant to issue visas.
Q4. What is trustworthy AI?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: The design, development and use of AI tools which do more good for society than they do harm.
Q5. The Forum has developed a board tool kit to help board member on how to operationalize AI ethics. What is it? Do you have any feedback on how useful is it in practice?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: It provides Boards with information which allows they to understand how their role changes when their company uses AI and therefore gives them the tools to develop their governance and other roles to advise on this complex topic. Many Boards have indicated that they have found it useful and it has been downloaded more than 50,000 times.
Q6. Let´s talk about standards for AI. Does it really make sense to standardize an AI system? What is your take on this?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: I have been working with the IEEE on standards for AI since 2015, I am still the Vice-Chair. I think that we need to use all types of governance for AI from norms to regulation depending on risk. Standards provide us with an excellent tool in this regard.
Q7. There are some initiatives for Certification of AI. Who has the authority to define what a certification of AI is about?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: At the moment there are many who are thinking about certification. There is not regulation and no way of being certified to certify! This needs to be done or there will be a proliferation and no-one will be able to understand which is good and which is bad. Governments have a role here, for example Singapore’s work on certifying people to use their Model AI Governance Framework.
Q8. What kind of incentives are necessary in your opinion for helping companies to follow responsible AI practices?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: I think that many companies need to understand that their customers are worried about the use of AI and then act accordingly. I believe they should set up ethics advisory boards and then follow the advice or internal teams to advise on what they should do and take that advise. In our Responsible Use of Technology work we have considered this in detail.
Q9. Do you think that soft government mechanisms would be sufficient to regulate the use of AI or would it be better to have hard government mechanisms?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: both
Q10. Assuming all goes well, what do you think a world with advanced AI would look like?
Kay Firth-Butterfield: I think we have to decide what trade offs of privacy we want to allow for humans to develop harnessing AI. I believe that it should be up to each of us but sadly one person deciding to use surveillance via a doorbell surveills many. I believe that we will work with robots and AI so that we can do our jobs better. Our work on positive futures with AI is designed to help us better answer this question. Report out next month! Meanwhile here is an agenda.
Kay Firth-Butterfield is a lawyer, professor, and author specializing in the intersection of business, policy, artificial intelligence, international relations, and AI ethics.
Since 2017, she has been the Head of Artificial Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum and is one of the foremost experts in the world on the governance of AI. She is a barrister, former judge and professor, technologist and entrepreneur and vice-Chair of The IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems. She was part of the group which met at Asilomar to create the Asilomar AI Ethical Principles, is a member of the Polaris Council for the Government Accountability Office (USA), the Advisory Board for UNESCO International Research Centre on AI and AI4All.
She regularly speaks to international audiences addressing many aspects of the beneficial and challenging technical, economic and social changes arising from the use of AI.
- Empowering AI Leadership: An Oversight Toolkit for Boards of Directors. World Economic Forum.
- Ethics by Design: An organizational approach to responsible use of technology. White Paper December 2020. World Economic Forum.
- A European approach to artificial intelligence, European Commission.
- The IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems
On Digital Transformation and Ethics. Interview with Eberhard Schnebel. ODBMS Industry Watch. November 23, 2020
On the new Tortoise Global AI Index. Interview with Alexandra Mousavizadeh. ODBMS Industry Watch, April 7, 2021
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