IEEE Advocates for Ethics in AI and Autonomous Systems Design at WSIS Forum

The summit in Geneva brought together nearly 3,000 people from 150 countries

19 April 2018

IEEE joined global leaders at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, held 19 to 23 March in Geneva. The annual event, organized by the United Nations and hosted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), brought together more than 2,800 people from 150 countries who share a common mission: to make information accessible to everyone.

Participants discussed the role of information and communication technologies in achieving the U.N.’s 17 sustainable-development goals, which include gender equality, environmental sustainability, and well-being.


IEEE speakers included 2017 President Karen Bartleson, who spoke during the opening ceremony. Her presentation focused on the need to establish societal and policy guidelines for artificial intelligence and autonomous systems in order for such systems to serve humanity’s values and ethical principles.

Representatives from government, industry, academia, and the technical community presented policy statements. Bartleson delivered IEEE’s statement:

As the use and impact of AI/AS become pervasive, there is a need to establish societal and policy guidelines in order for such systems to serve humanity’s values and ethical principles. To contribute in a positive manner, stakeholder communities need to participate in an open and honest debate around sets of values, institutions, symbols, and representations. This will allow for an elevated level of trust between people and technology that is needed for AI/AS to be truly beneficial to our daily lives.

Bartleson also spoke about the importance of putting ethics and human aspects first in AI/AS design. IEEE recently published the second version of its “Ethically Aligned Design" document. The organization shares the vision of a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented information society as outlined by the United Nations through WSIS.

Two IEEE volunteers were selected to serve as high-level track facilitators. IEEE Member Deepak Maheshwari, chair of the IEEE Internet Initiative, moderated a session focused on the policy and technological innovations necessary to connect people who live in underserved areas to the Internet. Moira Patterson, global affairs program director of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), served as a facilitator for panel sessions on the theme of “Inclusiveness: Access to Information and Knowledge for All.”

Associate Member John Havens, executive director of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, moderated the “Achieving Sustainable Development Goals Through Ethically Aligned Design” panel discussion on 22 March. Panel participants highlighted challenges and discussed current activities.

Through the global initiative, IEEE-SA has 12 active standards projects addressing a wide range of technical and ethical issues that are chaired by experts in their field of study.

IEEE’s participation at this year’s WSIS Forum helped to raise the awareness of important issues and the need to take immediate action. The WSIS Forum 2018: High-Level Track Outcomes and Executive Brief and several session summaries are available at the forum website and will be submitted to the Commission on Science and Technology, the U.N. General Assembly, and the ITU Council.

Karen McCabe is IEEE’s senior director of technology policy and international affairs, in Piscataway, N.J. She leads the organization’s partnerships with the United Nations and other international bodies, with a focus on engagement of the technical community and the intersection of policy and technology in information and communication technologies. She is a member of the Internet Society and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Internet technical advisory committee.

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