Woman and man use InnerEye project on Surface Studio

Ethics in AI is crucial but so is education, says Microsoft UK CEO

A House of Lords report that calls on the UK to remain a leader in the development of artificial intelligence in order to shape the ethics behind the technology has been welcomed by Microsoft.

The UK’s first public inquiry into the creation and use of AI, which is increasingly being embedded in products and services, found that this country has some of the field’s top experts and companies.

Because of this, the UK has a “unique opportunity to shape AI positively for the public’s benefit and to lead the international community in AI’s ethical development”, said Lord Clement-Jones, the Chairman of the House of Lords Committee on AI.

Cindy Rose, Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, welcomed the 181-page report – entitled AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? – and pointed to the work the company is doing across the world to ensure AI will be used responsibly.

Read the full AI report

“We welcome the House of Lords report, which rightly highlights that the UK is at the forefront of AI, with some of the brightest minds based here,” she said. “The work that we do in this country, led by our Research Lab in Cambridge, is being exported across the world, changing lives for the better.

“As part of our vision to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more, Microsoft is ensuring everyone can benefit from AI in a way that is safe and ethical, and that work can be seen every day in the products and services our customers use. We understand that to ensure AI continues to be used as a force for good, it is crucial that it’s developed according to strong ethical guidelines.”

In its report, the 13-member committee proposed a five-point AI code, to guide the technology’s development and use in the future. The code states that:

  • Artificial intelligence should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity
  • Artificial intelligence should operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness
  • Artificial intelligence should not be used to diminish the data rights or privacy of individuals, families or communities
  • All citizens should have the right to be educated to enable them to flourish mentally, emotionally and economically alongside artificial intelligence.
  • The autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive human beings should never be vested in artificial intelligence.

In creating the report, the committee visited Microsoft’s lab in Cambridge and met with Professor Chris Bishop and his team to discuss AI. They were shown the SeeingAI app (above), which was developed in the UK and used by people who are visually impaired to describe the world around them; Project Torino, a physical computing system that helps primary school children with blindness to code; and InnerEye, which uses artificial intelligence to help radiologists and oncologists analyse 3D medical images from MRI and CT scans.

During the committee’s visit, Abigail Sellen, Deputy Laboratory Director and Principal Researcher, explained how the lab developed AI with three overarching principles in mind: partnership rather than replacement of humans; putting human values at the centre of their applications; and a strong focus on a wide-ranging set of ethical considerations, “including the preservation of human autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice.”

Lord Clement-Jones echoed this stance. “It is essential that ethics take centre stage in AI’s development and use,” he said. “AI is not without its risks and the adoption of the principles proposed by the Committee will help to mitigate these. An ethical approach ensures the public trusts this technology and sees the benefits of using it. It will also prepare them to challenge its misuse.”

Other recommendations in the report include the need for Government focus on lifelong learning through investment in skills and training from the classroom onwards, as people retrain throughout their working lives to reflect employment changes.

Read The Future Computed

In a book entitled The Future Computed (above), released earlier this year, Microsoft focused on how AI will change how people work. “If there has been one constant over 250 years of technological change, it has been the ongoing impact of technology on jobs — the creation of new jobs, the elimination of existing jobs and the evolution of job tasks and content. This is certain to continue,” the book stated.

This shake-up of the workplace will require a similar change in how schools teach youngsters to help them take full advantage of AI. Microsoft has called for computer science education to be led by teachers from many backgrounds, and hopes this will encourage more women, as well as those from a range ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, to pursue STEM subjects and a career in the technology sector.

The House of Lords report called for ethical design and the use of technology to be included in the curriculum and referenced conversations with Microsoft in which it was stated that “it is vital that teachers continue to be supported in a way that enables them to deliver the new curriculum in the most effective way possible”.

Cindy Rose commented that ensuring people had access to digital skills training was crucial. “Everyone should have the opportunity to acquire digital skills today, so they possess the tools of tomorrow and shape their future,” she said. “It’s why Microsoft has a programme in the UK that is training 30,000 public servants for free in a range of digital skills, and make sure everyone in the UK has access to free, online digital literacy training.”

Microsoft also welcomes diverse research and development teams to ensure that AI systems are more inclusive. This includes making visible biases in our AI systems that could negatively impact particular members of society. For example, cultural biases can be replicated in AI systems used to make decisions on important aspects of life such as healthcare, criminality, credit ratings and employment opportunities. The Lords AI Committee noted the importance of avoiding bias in AI if society was to have trust in the technology – an issue stressed in Microsoft’s written submission to the Committee.

Lord Clement-Jones said: “We’ve asked whether the UK is ready willing and able to take advantage of AI. With our recommendations, it will be.”