Building Ethical A.I. Products Can Put Businesses at a Competitive Advantage

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  • Artificial intelligence systems are already transforming businesses. They are able to automate repetitive tasks, analyze large volumes of data, recommend content, translate languages and even play games.
  • A panel of experts at the Asia Tech x Singapore conference discussed the need for international collaboration to create reliable AI and how that can turn into competitive advantage for businesses.

SINGAPORE — Making sure that AI-driven services and products are ethical and can be trusted could become a competitive strength for businesses, experts said Wednesday.

Artificial intelligence systems are already transforming businesses. They are able to automate repetitive tasks, analyze large volumes of data, recommend content, translate languages and even play games.

But the current scope of things that AI can do is relatively narrow. Some experts say the technology is a long way from becoming so-called artificial general intelligence, or AGI — which states AI's hypothetical ability to understand or learn any intellectual task that a human being can.

But others have pointed out that even in its current, narrow capabilities, AI raises a series of ethical questions — such as whether the data fed into AI programs are without bias, and whether AI can be held accountable if something goes wrong.

To build trusted AI systems, there needs to be cooperation among countries and various stakeholders, according to Wonki Min, a former vice minister at South Korea's science and technology ministry, who spearheaded the country's national AI strategy.

That means working together with neighboring countries as well as industry experts, academics, and everyday people who use those technologies, Min said during a panel discussion about AI governance at the Asia Tech x Singapore conference.

Essentials for building trust

Experts have previously warned that inherently biased AI programs can pose serious problems and it may hinder people's trust in those systems. Facial recognition software, for example, may incorporate accidental racial and gender bias that may pose a threat to a particular group of people.

Trust is fundamental to adopting any technology and experiencing its full benefits, said Andrew Wyckoff, director of the science, technology and innovation directorate at the OECD, who was part of the panel.

He pointed out there are several "essential" elements to building trust in AI systems. They include: being able to explain how a program works in a transparent manner, ensuring the program is robust, secure, safe, and accountable.

Regulators face a difficult task of finding balance in encouraging further AI developments and managing the associated risks. Some researchers say it's too early for policymakers to impose strict new rules on the technology.

For its part, the OECD's principles on AI promote artificial intelligence that's "innovative and trustworthy and that respects human rights and democratic values," and provides recommendations to policymakers and other stakeholders.

A competitive advantage

Building trusted and ethical AI systems and the governance around them could potentially become a competitive strength for companies, according to Hiroaki Kitano, president and CEO at Sony Computer Science Laboratories.

The Japanese conglomerate uses AI in a variety of its products, including cameras.

For Norwegian telecommunication giant Telenor, ethical AI is "responsible business in the making," according to Ieva Martinkenaite, a vice president at Telenor Research. She pointed out that many of the next-generation telecommunication networks will be driven by AI-embedded software and that technology will be crucial for new growth opportunities.

That requires a set of global rules and trust principles built around AI that are followed not only by the telecom companies, but also by global vendors that they outsource parts of their operations to, according to Martinkenaite. Vendors may include stakeholders like equipment providers, software firms and service assurance companies, he added.

"Artificial intelligence creates a competitive strength for industry," she said.

Wonki Min, currently president at the State University of New York, Korea, added that if companies fail to meet the ethical standards set around AI, they would not survive in the marketplace. If governments are unable to create a trusted AI environment, they would not maximize the technology's benefits.

"So, it is essential to build a trusted AI in order to maximize the potential benefits of AI technology and the way we should do that is in global multi-stakeholder approach," Min said.

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