Driving Ethical Implementation of A/IS from Principles to Practice


With autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS) playing a larger and larger role in our daily lives, more and more attention is being paid to the ethical questions these revolutionary technologies raise. IEEE has spent the last three years helping the global A/IS community drive toward concrete, useful recommendations. 

A three-year, globally open and iterative process involving thousands of global experts resulted in the 25 March 2019 launch of Ethically Aligned Design, First Edition (EAD1e). Produced by an open, global community of The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, EAD1e is available at no cost from IEEE, and an archive of a global webinar introducing the document is to be made available.

Setting forth scientific analysis and resources, high-level principles and actionable recommendations, EAD1e is an in-depth, seminal work intended to inspire academics, industry members, engineers, policymakers, developers and users of A/IS globally to take action. EAD1e can guide standards, certification, regulation or legislation for the design, manufacture and use of A/IS and serve as a key reference for the work of policymakers, industry members, technologists and educators. 

First of Its Kind

EAD1e is a first-of-its-kind entry for the A/IS community from a number of perspectives.

For one, it is globally scoped. Many principles released in the past few years have been regionally focused—and, logically so, given that they were being produced for citizens within their regions. EAD1e, however, has worldwide context, given the voices heard from North America, the European Union, the United Kingdom, China, South Korea, Japan, the Russian Federation, Mexico, Australia and multiple other countries through The IEEE Global Initiative. The document’s “Classical Ethics in A/IS” chapter, for example, is of particular interest for an introductory background of Eastern ethical traditions that is uncommonly found in other A/IS principles-oriented literature. 

Another key characteristic is that EAD1e was bottom-up in its creation. Grounded in the open IEEE consensus-building paradigm and processes, the committees who drafted EAD1e are open for anyone to join. Moreover, these open communities chose for themselves the topics they wanted to work on in the document’s development. 

Also, the General Principles that have informed EAD1e’s development since its inception are another way that the document can be considered unique in its field:

  • Human rights—A/IS shall be created and operated to respect, promote and protect internationally recognized human rights.
  • Well-being—A/IS creators shall adopt increased human well-being as a primary success criterion for development.
  • Data agency—A/IS creators shall empower individuals with the ability to access and securely share their data, to maintain people’s capacity to have control over their identity.

Taking Action

Two previous, open-consultation versions of EAD already proved to be internationally recognized by governments, inter-governmental bodies, academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and industry. They have informed collaborations on A/IS governance with the United Nations, the European Commission and Parliament, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as with UNESCO and UNICEF, among others. Furthermore, work toward EAD1e already has influenced the development of the IEEE P7000™ series of standards, focusing on societal and ethical issues. 

Here’s how you can use EAD1e in your own context:

  • Read the first chapter, “From Principles to Practice.”  
  • Identify which General Principles are new/unique to you and your organization and why you feel they are important. 
  • Identify which chapters of EAD1e most apply to your current work or needs, and, after reading them, hold meetings in your organization to discuss the central issues and recommendations in each chapter. Why or why not does your organization align with the document’s General Principles? What issues raised in EAD1e are most relevant to you? Why or why not does your organization agree with the document’s recommendations? 

The 10 chapters of EAD1e are designed to be used together as a catalyzing resource, guiding its global, cross-industry and multidisciplinary readership to take action and drive ethical implementation of A/IS from principles to practice.

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