Many people wonder if developers of autonomous and intelligent systems are considering the complex ethical issues associated with their inventions. Because writing technical standards involves consensus-building, transparency, and a variety of viewpoints, the process is often seen as a way to reassure end users that those working on new technologies have addressed their ethical concerns.
Realizing they have a responsibility to address societal challenges raised by such systems, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) and 11 other standards-development organizations have formed the Open Community for Ethics in Autonomous and Intelligent Systems (Oceanis). This open forum aims to bring together organizations interested in the development and use of standards as a means to address ethical matters.
The other founding members are the African Organization for Standardization, the Austrian Electrotechnical Association, Austrian Standards International, the British Standards Institution, the China Electronic Standardizations Institute, the CIO Strategy Council, the International Electrotechnical Commission, the Ecuadorian Service for Standardization, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the Turkish Standards Institute, and the Verband und Deutsche Kommission Elektrotechnik Elektronik Informationstechnik.
“Oceanis is an open community. It’s not an IEEE initiative but a melding of like-minded organizations,” says Karen McCabe, senior director of technology policy and international affairs for the IEEE-SA. “The founding organizations have been discussing the role of ethics in their own communities, but we felt it best to pull our resources together.
“A lot of standards bodies, including IEEE, have significant work and initiatives in this space, but there hasn’t been anything for us as a collective to coalesce around issues of value, ethics, and well-being.”
IEEE was one of the lead groups in organizing Oceanis, McCabe says, because the community supports the organization’s mission and aligns with the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. An IEEE-SA Industry Connections activity, the initiative aims to bring together technologists, ethicists, policymakers, business leaders, and end users to ensure those involved in developing technologies are educated, trained, and empowered to make ethical considerations a priority.
“The establishment of Oceanis aligns with IEEE’s tagline and with the rationale behind IEEE's Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems,” Konstantinos Karachalios, IEEE-SA managing director, said in a news release. “We are convinced that the complex ethical issues emerging in the development and deployment of such systems can only be addressed through processes that correspond to the envisioned principles, not through agreements behind closed doors. IEEE has already initiated an entirely new series of standardization projects open to any interested person and carried out through our rules-based and transparent process.”
Fourteen IEEE standards working groups are a part of the new series: the IEEE P7000 “Model Process for Addressing Ethical Concerns During System Design.”
“When we look at developing a technology and its standardization, we should be conscious about the impact it has on society and well-being,” McCabe says. “We need to think about these things from the beginning, not as an afterthought.”
IEEE-SA and the MIT Media Lab also recently launched the Council on Extended Intelligence. The group seeks to foster the responsible creation of intelligent systems by recognizing they are part of larger human and environmental systems that need to be handled holistically.
Oceanis participants will share information and coordinate on initiatives and programs, according to the news release, and they will work to enhance the understanding of the role standards play in facilitating innovation, as well as address ethics. The founders plan to jointly organize local, regional, and global events.
“We really intend to be a resource,” McCabe says, “not only for those directly developing standards but also for those using standards. Oceanis will help address potential unintended consequences around technology that gets standardized.”
The community is open to anyone who has an interest, including governmental bodies, policymakers, consumer groups, and nongovernmental organizations. Groups that already have expressed interest include a psychological association and a road-safety company.
McCabe says Oceanis will provide a path for people with different types of expertise. “Bringing a level of consciousness and responsibility into the standardization process is critical,” she says.
If your organization would like to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.