Every UK technologist working in a high-stakes AI role should be licensed and meet independent ethical standards, according to the professional body for computing.

A public register of AI professionals, held to an ethical code of conduct, will make an ‘AI version’ of the Post Office Horizon scandal less likely, said BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

The rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents a host of ethical dilemmas, from misinformation to biased training data and its potential to manipulate public opinion. The recent Post Office Horizon IT Scandal has underscored the necessity of independent standards for professionalism and ethics in technology development and deployment.

The aim of the Bletchley Declaration signed at the AI Summit is to foster the creation of safe, trustworthy and responsible AI systems. However, BCS argues that to achieve this, there must be the establishment of shared standards of accountability, ethics and competence among AI practitioners. This includes not only technical professionals but also non-technical leaders who make decisions regarding AI implementation within organisations.

A survey conducted by the BCS Ethics specialist group showed a consensus for government leadership in shaping global ethical standards for AI. BCS also recommends strong and safe whistleblowing channels to allow tech experts to call out unethical management. Around 19% of IT professionals faced an ethical challenge in their work in 2023, according to a BCS survey.

The survey also reveals that a substantial proportion of IT professionals have encountered ethical challenges in their work, highlighting the need for robust support mechanisms within organisations. A significant number of respondents reported receiving little to no support from their employers when facing ethical dilemmas, with some even facing threats of dismissal or disciplinary action.

The paper proposes several recommendations:

  • Professional Registration: Every technologist, particularly those in high-stakes IT roles such as AI, should be registered professionals meeting independent standards of ethical practice and competence.
  • Government and Industry Collaboration: Government, industry, and professional bodies should collaborate to develop and support standards for ethical AI practice, fostering public trust and expectation of good conduct.
  • Ethical Policies: Organisations should publish ethical policies regarding AI use, applicable to both technical and non-technical leadership.
  • Whistleblower Protection: Strong and supported channels for whistleblowing and escalation should be established to address unethical behaviour or AI deployment harmful to society.
  • Government Leadership: The UK government should take a lead role in setting global ethical standards for AI and other high-stakes technologies.
  • Professional Support: Professional bodies like the BCS should provide regular research, advocacy, and guidance to support IT professionals in navigating ethical challenges.

Furthermore, the recommendations are divided into specific actions for policymakers, industry stakeholders, professional bodies and individual IT professionals. These actions include legislative measures, policy changes within organisations, support for professional development and the promotion of ethical considerations in AI deployment.

In conclusion, the ethical challenges posed by AI require a multifaceted approach involving collaboration between government, industry, professional bodies and individual professionals. By implementing the proposed recommendations, the UK can position itself as a global leader in ethical AI development and ensure the responsible use of technology for the benefit of society.