Event Report: Tech Ethics Thematic Scoping Event: What are the ethical challenges posed by technology today?

Pictfor and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Data Analytics (APGDA) hosted a roundtable discussion in the House of Commons on Tuesday 17 April. The event was designed to scope the basis for a potential commission to investigate the ethical challenges posed by technology today, which will be run by the APGDA. Leading the roundtable was:

  • Darren Jones MP, Pictfor Officer and Co-Chair of the commission
  • Lee Rowley MP, Co-Chair of the commission

Darren Jones MP, Pictfor Officer and Co-Chair of the commission, opened the event by stating that a comprehensive discussion about tech ethics was needed. He said that he wanted the commission to focus on areas of public policy where value can be added and make useful recommendations to Government.

Lee Rowley, Co-Chair of the commission, said he wanted the commission to raise the profile of discussions about machine learning and related issues as well as investigate how the UK can retain a competitive advantage over industries that will have a big impact on the future economy. He then asked participants to introduce themselves and respond to the central question of the event ‘What is the most pressing issue in tech ethics?’. The responses from roundtable attendees were as follows:  

  • Tijes Broeke, Hewlett Packard (HP), said that trust drives HP as a business and it is in its interest to get it right.
  • Maya Desai, Royal Academy of Engineering, said that her interest was in ensuring that the public is informed and engaged in the debate on technology and ethics.
  • Tom Morrison-Bell, Microsoft, said that debates around machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) should focus on practical implications. He said that in order to do this the public, policy-makers and the tech sector need a common vocabulary.
  • Emma Wright, Kemp-Little, said her interest was in furthering diversity in the creation of AI.
  • Griff Ferris, Big Brother Watch, said he wanted the work of the commission to shine a light on the uses, and potential abuses, of data and privacy.
  • Natalie Chyi, Privacy International, said that innovation should be judged on whether or not it is positive for society.
  • Stephen Pattison, ARM, said his interest is in the removal of unfair bias in AI and machine learning.
  • Charles Hughes, individual Pictfor member, said that the infrastructure of professional institutions are under promoted.
  • Patricia Shaw, Experian, said that her interest was in data and how we can use it for the future.
  • Jeremy Renwick, Agilesphere, said that his primary interest was around ensuring transparency.
  • Narayanan Vaidyanathan, ACCA, said that his interest was in proportionate regulation that protects consumers against unintended bias.
  • Dr Amanda Sharkey, University of Sheffield, said she was interested in debates about where it is appropriate or inappropriate to use robots.
  • Jim Brookes, individual Pictfor member, said that his main interest was in the security and integrity of personal data, and how we ensure best practice is put in place to protect individuals’ data.
  • Richard Sarson, individual Pictfor member, said that we are at a turning point in terms of the internet becoming a “force for good”.
  • Michael Sturroc, DMA, said that he was interested in how ethics will play out in all areas of digital marketing.
  • Mike Lordan, DMA, said that he also agreed with a focus on ethics in digital marketing particularly around transparency.
  • Ivana Bartoletti, Gemserv, said that her interest was in the economic value of data and its role in the digital economy, as well as bias.
  • Sue Daley, techUK, said that thinking on tech ethics needed to be turned into practical action that individual organisations can engage with and implement on a day to day basis.
  • David Evans, BCS, said that professional bodies like BCS can work together to put ethical issues into practice.
  • Julian Blake, DigitalAgenda, said that his interest was in the “trust deficit” with big technology companies and how to close it.
  • James Davies, BCS, said that an ethical focus on tech is needed and that businesses are waking up to this as it can give them a competitive advantage.
  • David Lyford-Smith, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), said that the ICAEW were working to contextualise a code of ethics for the accounting profession. He also said that, since this technology is designed to do things we can’t do ourselves, we may always have a limited understanding of it.
  • Dr Phil Richards, Jisc, said that he was interested in tech ethics from the context of higher education and in seeing the power of data and algorithms to impact learning outcomes.
  • David Skelton, Google, said that it is important that the debate on tech ethics is had in a balanced way that recognises the benefit that technology brings to the UK economy, healthcare and small businesses.
  • Jack Hardinges, Open Data Institute, said his interest was in new ethical risks and opportunities around data.
  • Sam Hepher, The Living Wage Foundation, said that he was interested in how the living wage and digital skills relate.
  • Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge and Chair of APPG on Data Analytics, said he wanted to hone in on what parliament can do to keep up with the scale of the challenge.
  • Jacob Ohrvik-Scott, Doteveryone, said that he was interested in how policy can lay the ground work for setting up different data organisations such as data hubs for public goods.

Darren Jones MP, Pictfor Officer and Co-Chair of the commission, said that he had attempted to summarised the initial discussion and had found five themes which were as follows:

1) Trust

2) Diversity and bias

3) Public understanding

4) Data and rights

5) AI and machine learning

Darren Jones MP then asked for comments from attendees on the themes he had outlined.

Tom Morrison-Bell, Microsoft, said that the economic impacts of technological innovations should also be considered an ethical consideration, citing productivity which increases wages as an example.

Sue Daley, techUK, said she disagreed with framing the debate as opportunities versus risk.

Professor Luciano Floridi, Oxford Internet Institute, said that the main focus of the commission should be on mitigating risk and devising strategies for when things go wrong.

Dr Phil Richards, Jisc, said he thought that the commission should reflect on the social good that data sharing can bring, citing the example of how sharing data on car crashes can have a positive impact by helping to decrease car crashes in the future.

Maya Desai, Privacy International, said that transparency is an issue of inclusion and diversity. She explained that individuals that are more engaged with these issues are usually from advantaged social positions.

Jeremy Renwick, Agilesphere, said that one way to fix some ethical issues in tech is by increasing diversity in the workforce.

Dr George Dibb, Head of Industry, Technology & Innovation at Policy Connect and the secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Data Analytics, said that the first task of the commission will be to define what ethical means. He explained that the commission will investigate 3-5 areas in more detail.

Lee Rowley MP and Darren Jones MP, who led the roundtable discussion, closed the session by thanking attendees for contributions and an interesting discussion.

Please click here for a full list of attendees

If you would like further information on this topic or about Pictfor’s programme of events, please contact admin@pictfor.org.uk.

Please note: This document includes the minutes of the meeting. This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.

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