Prioritizing Ethical Considerations in the Design of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems


The first half of 2020 has been a busy time of progress on varied fronts regarding the work of The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems including projects focused on:

  • Moving beyond gross domestic product (GDP) for measuring impact in technology with the release of IEEE 7010™-2020
  • How to address ethical and technological issues regarding the immersive web with the release of a new chapter for Ethically Aligned Design focused on Extended Reality (XR)
  • Combating COVID-19 with Artificial Intelligence Systems

We wish to thank the IEEE Global Initiative’s more than 3,000 volunteers and volunteers involved in the IEEE P7000 series of Standards Working Groups for their diverse efforts to ensure that every stakeholder involved in the design and development of A/IS is equipped to prioritize ethical considerations so that these technologies are advanced for the benefit of humanity while also prioritizing environmental sustainability.

Beyond GDP

Today the societal value of A/IS is measured largely by their increase of economic production, but the effect of these systems is widespread, with ramifications on the environment, as well as human mental and physical health. IEEE 7010™-2020, IEEE Recommended Practice for Assessing the Impact of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems on Human Well-Being, which was published in May, provides engineers and data scientists creating A/IS with a comprehensive list of well-being indicators grounded in scientifically valid indices and going beyond common key performance indicators such as GDP.

The standard is designed to help inform product development guidance, identification of areas for improvement, risk management, performance assessment and the identification of intended and unintended A/IS users, uses, and impacts on human well-being. IEEE 7010 provides unifying, cross-sector metrics illuminating how forthcoming technological innovations might increase individual or societal well-being and environmental sustainability.

Extended Reality

A new chapter of Ethically Aligned Design: A Vision for Prioritizing Human Well-being with Autonomous and Intelligent Systems is available. The downloadable “Extended Reality in A/IS” chapter explores methodologies providing an ethical framework for development of XR systems in ways that human rights are respected. Challenges introduced by XR across social interactions, mental health, education and training, the arts and privacy, access, and control are addressed. Reads the document:

The growing prevalence of augmented and virtual environments is set to extend our collective human cognizance. Our sense of physical identity, time, and agency will become subject to entirely new paradigms, where the gateways to these experiences might be controlled by interests other than that of ordinary citizens. The autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS) backbone enabling real-time personalization of any end-users’ Extended Reality (XR) world raises a host of ethical and philosophical questions about the collection, control, and exploitation of user data within these ecosystems. In order to avoid negative consequences in XR systems enhanced by A/IS, society must proactively seek solutions, set standards, and adopt methods that can enhance access, innovation, and governance to ensure human wellbeing.

AIS for COVID-19

The IEEE Global Initiative in May released a “Statement Regarding the Ethical Implementation of Artificial Intelligence Systems (AIS) for Addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In the statement, the IEEE Global Initiative executive committee hailed the value of Artificial Intelligence Systems (AIS) in addressing the COVID-19 crisis, in areas such as helping model infection dynamics and socioeconomic impact, monitoring physical distancing, identifying vaccines and helping fight disease spread. However, the committee wrote, these same technologies also raise important issues relative to ethics. The IEEE Global Initiative statement provided responses to concerns in 10 areas:

  • New metrics of success
  • Human rights
  • Data sovereignty
  • Regulation
  • Widest availability
  • Agile governance
  • Values-based design
  • Cultural and values-based norms
  • Manipulation versus “nudging” in vulnerable populations
  • Mental health

Joining the Effort

Autonomous and intelligent systems offer historic potential to serve as an enormous force of good for our world, but it is going to require consistent, coordinated progress on multiple fronts for these technologies to fulfill their promise to holistically increase human well-being, empower all people inclusively across nations and cultures and advance sustainability. We look forward to input and contributions from more participants globally.

Please visit The IEEE Global Initiative to register for our newsletter and engage in our activities.

Share this Article