Seven IEEE Standards Projects Provide Ethical Guidance for New Technologies

They cover autonomous systems, data privacy, and avoiding bias in algorithms

5 May 2017

The IEEE Standards Association is working to ensure that designers of emerging technologies, like self-driving cars and software programs, prioritize ethical considerations in their work. Here are seven ethics-related standards in the IEEE P7000 series under development by IEEE working groups that deal with ethics.

  • IEEE P7000

    “Model Process for Addressing Ethical Concerns During System Design” outlines an approach for identifying and analyzing potential ethical issues in a system or software program from the effort’s outset. Values-based, system-design methods address ethical considerations at each stage of development so as to avoid unintended consequences.

  • IEEE P7001

    “Transparency of Autonomous Systems” provides a guide for developing technologies that can assess their own actions and help users understand why a system made certain decisions. If a self-driving car chooses to brake unexpectedly, for example, it should inform the driver why. If a caregiver robot inadvertently gives out the wrong medication, the robot must explain how it made that mistake so the error can be corrected.

    The project also offers ways to provide accountability for a system, such as by incorporating an event data recorder in a self-driving car or being able to access data from a device’s sensors.

  • IEEE P7002

    “Data Privacy Process” specifies how to manage ethical issues for systems and software that collect personal data. The standard defines requirements for corporate data-collection policies and quality assurance. It includes a use case and data model for organizations developing applications. The standard also provides designers with ways to identify and measure privacy controls in their systems.

  • IEEE P7003

    “Algorithmic Bias Considerations” provides developers of autonomous or intelligent systems with protocols to avoid negative bias in their code. Bias could occur when, for example, subjective or incorrect interpretations of data—like mistaking correlation with causation—are used.

    The standard offers steps to take for eliminating negative bias issues when creating algorithms. The standard will also include benchmarking procedures and criteria for selecting validation data sets, establishing and communicating the application boundaries for which an algorithm has been designed, and guarding against unintended consequences.

  • IEEE P7004

    “Standard for Child and Student Data Governance” provides processes and certifications for transparency and accountability for educational institutions that handle data meant to ensure the safety of students. The standard defines how to access, collect, share, and remove data related to children and students in any educational or institutional setting.

  • IEEE P7005

    “Standard for Transparent Employer Data Governance” provides guidelines and certifications on storing, protecting, and using employee data in an ethical manner. The project recommends tools and services to help employees make informed decisions when it comes to sharing their personal information. It hopes to provide clarity and recommendations both for how employees can share their information in a safe and trusted environment as well as how employers can align with employees in the process. The standard is modeled after the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which outlines how to secure an individual’s information.

  • IEEE P7006

    “Standard for Personal Data Artificial Intelligence Agent” addresses concerns raised about machines making decisions automatically, without human input. This standard hopes to educate government and industry on why it’s wise to install mechanisms that mitigate ethical concerns when AI systems can organize and share personal information on their own. Designed as a tool to allow individuals to essentially create personal “terms and conditions” for their data, the agent will provide a way for people to manage and control their identity in the digital world.

This article is part of our May 2017 special issue on ethics in engineering.

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