Use AI for Lawful and Ethical Purpose

October 5, 2021

This blog post is part of a series where we introduce some basic concepts of responsible AI to SMEs developing AI based systems.

Working on the intended purpose of your AI product

You may have heard that the most important ethical question is: why? Answering this question will help you formulate how you think and communicate the intended purpose of your AI product. You can also use the following helpful questions in working with your intended purpose and documenting it in a way that is understandable by others:

  • What is the problem your AI product is solving?
  • Why is an AI product the right solution to the problem?
  • Who are the intended users and other affected stakeholders of your product?
  • Which use cases is it intended for?
  • In which geographical, behavioral or functional settings is it intended to be used?
Lawful and ethical purpose

Lawful AI respects all applicable laws and regulations. While there are specific AI regulations being prepared in EU and many other regions globally, AI is already today regulated by many legally binding rules in EU, state and international levels. Some of the important ones are: EU primary law (the Treaties of the European Union and its Charter of Fundamental Rights), EU secondary law (e.g. GDPR, anti-discrimination directives, the Product Liability Directive), the UN Human Rights treaties and the Council of Europe’s conventions (e.g. European Convention of Human Rights), and various national laws.

In anticipation of the new EU AI regulations, there are use cases which are more likely to be under more strict regulative control or even prohibited in future. EU’s proposed AI Act suggest a prohibition for AI products that

  • deploy subliminal techniques beyond a person’s consciousness to distort a person’s behavior in a manner that causes physical or psychological harm
  • exploit vulnerabilities of persons due to their age, physical or mental disability
  • evaluate or classify the trustworthiness of persons by public authority with social score
  • use ‘real-time’ remote biometric identification in publicly accessible spaces for the purpose of law enforcement

Ethical AI respects values and norms of the environment where it’s going to be used and of the people it impacts. The concept 'value' means the importance of a thing or an action; values provide ideals and standards with which to evaluate things, choices, actions, and events. Without knowing the intended purpose, use context and users, it might be difficult to define whether AI is ethical or unethical. This is why it is important that AI products are not developed in isolation, but in frequent dialogue with stakeholders beyond familiar. Only by exposing your ideas are you able to gain feedback that is necessary to answer to how your product fits the norms of people affected.

More and more often organizations have their own ethical AI principles to articulate the values that are important to an organization, and to help guide ethical considerations. If your organization does not have ones, you can use OECD’s principles as a checklist:

  • AI should benefit people and the planet by driving inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being.
  • AI systems should be designed in a way that respects the rule of law, human rights, democratic values and diversity, and they should include appropriate safeguards – for example, enabling human intervention where necessary – to ensure a fair and just society.
  • There should be transparency and responsible disclosure around AI systems to ensure that people understand AI-based outcomes and can challenge them.
  • AI systems must function in a robust, secure and safe way throughout their life cycles and potential risks should be continually assessed and managed.
  • Organizations and individuals developing, deploying or operating AI systems should be held accountable for their proper functioning in line with the above principles
To summarize, the first ethical consideration of your AI project is to ensure that you work on economically, socially and environmentally sustainable mission considering widely the stakeholders affected by your system.  

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