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Taking Responsibility for Ethical Artificial Intelligence

How important is the ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI), and whose responsibility should it be? For anyone with even a passing interest in the potential benefits and risks of this much-hyped technology, these are hugely pertinent issues. And they are just two of the compelling questions we put to Aiko Yamashita, senior data scientist at DNB Bank’s Advanced Analytics Centre of Excellence, in the very first of our Future Says interviews. As the name suggests, the aim of these discussions, which you can catch up with here, is to draw on insight from industry experts to build a clearer picture of where AI and data science are taking us.

In a recent LinkedIn Pulse post, our Future Says host, Sean Lang, highlighted how the last couple of years have seen a series of less than positive headlines regarding AI. The robo-firing of Uber drivers and student protests over exam results being generated by algorithms are just two notable examples. Given a CV that includes a PhD in experimental software engineering and an associate professorship at Oslo University, it is no surprise that Yamashita offers real enlightenment on the challenges and opportunities that we face as far as ethical and responsible AI is concerned.

Yamashita believes that defining the future of AI is very much a shared enterprise. Governments, businesses, and citizens all have an important part to play. Working together will be vital to ensure appropriate guidelines and best practices are put in place. 

Certainly, there is no doubting her belief in the gains to be made in areas such as our response to the pandemic and the on-going climate crisis. But appropriate use of AI will demand a balance of both bravery and caution. Although she is very much engaged in the commercial application of AI, Yamashita recognizes that the implications of the technology extend throughout society. As a result, she is keen to strip away the myths and mystery that surround it. 

Regardless of our level of technical expertise, all of us should be encouraged to take an interest in the principles at stake here. As citizens and consumers, we need to contribute to the debate surrounding exactly how and where we are comfortable with the use of AI. We seem happy enough to put our trust in Google Maps to guide us to a destination, but do we want the same technology to decide our visa or citizenship application? Boundaries need to be drawn.

It’s a philosophy that is very much apparent in Yamashita’s work at DNB. Again, the talk here is not about the nuts and bolts of technology. The focus is very much on people and culture. How has DNB – the largest bank in the Nordics – managed such an impressive digital transformation? More importantly, where is their roadmap heading now?

Yamashita also shares interesting thoughts on who makes a good data scientist, and where precisely they should sit within an organization. DNB has consciously addressed the dangers of a data science silo. A federated approach means that data scientists are kept as close as possible to domain expertise. The priority is firmly on delivering clear and quantifiable returns on AI projects.      

As for the data scientists themselves, she highlights how the absence of a clearly defined job spec has led to a ‘zoo’ of different backgrounds and skillsets. That’s undoubtedly an asset but brings us back to the need to establish guidelines that will channel their energy and expertise. Potential risks always need to be identified and addressed.

Ultimately, Yamashita reminds us, AI is just another tool. Responsibility for how it is used lies firmly in our hands. Working in the finance sector, she is acutely aware of the importance and value of trust. The parallels for AI are clear. Accountability, openness and explainability are not just tick boxes, they are the foundations on which widely accepted, ethical applications will be built. What’s more, the bigger the conversation that we have around AI, the better the outcomes will be. The Future Says series is very much part of Altair’s determination to engage, and we’d warmly welcome your participation. You can watch the full interview with Aiko here and sign up for Series 2 updates here.