How Can Organizations Ensure Their AI Systems Are Ethical?


Artificial intelligence (AI) applications are rapidly expanding, and so are the various threats they pose. From algorithms with embedded racial biases to “black box” systems that give humans no insight into an AI’s decision making process, it’s becoming increasingly clear that AI developers need to take steps to mitigate the risks.

AI “Ethics-As-A-Service”

Google plans to roll out a new “ethics-as-a-service” initiative to customers. Similar to its Google Cloud service, where Google hosts client data in its cloud, it plans to provide “ethics-as-a-service” to help clients spot and fix ethical issues with their AI systems.

The service, which may launch as soon as the end of 2020, is expected to consist of training courses on how to detect AI system ethical issues, as well as how to foster and deploy guidelines around AI ethics. The company may eventually provide consulting services such as audits and reviews. For example, it may inspect a financial client’s AI-enabled project to determine if a lending algorithm contains bias against minority groups. 

However, it’s important to note that it’s not yet determined whether some of Google’s ethics services will be free. According to Brian Green, Director of Technology Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, providing these services for a fee may pose ethical challenges of their own. “They’re legally compelled to make money and while ethics can be compatible with that, it might also cause some decisions not to go in the most ethical direction,” Green told Wired

Another challenge will be knowing where to draw the line in determining what’s ethical, acknowledges Tracy Frey, an expert on AI strategy in Google’s cloud division. “It is very important to us that we don’t sound like the moral police,” she told Wired

“Embedded Ethics”

In order for AI systems and enabled devices to be truly ethical, some experts argue that ethics must be considered from the very beginning of the design process, in what’s known as “embedded ethics.” This would require AI developers to involve ethicists whose job is to create “ethical awareness” throughout all stages of a design, according to a recent paper published in Science Daily by a team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM).

Meanwhile, R2 Data Labs, the data innovation arm of Rolls-Royce, has created an AI ethics framework that takes a similar “ethics-from-the-ground-up” approach. The company says organizations will be able to adopt this framework, which is intended to help build trust for AI systems among the public. The soon-to-be-published findings include:

  • An ethical decision-making process: This method will help developers make sure ethics is integrated in its AI decision making.
  • Five-layer check system that ensures AI algorithms are trustworthy: This step-by-step process prevents bias from developing in AI systems. It also provides continuous monitoring of results.

The findings, which Rolls-Royce plans to publish sometime this year, are based on the engineering titan’s own experience with AI applications. The company says the findings have been peer reviewed by experts in a variety of industries, including a number of large technology companies, as well as experts in government, pharmaceutical, automotive, and academia. 

Understanding AI and Ethics

As AI continues to grow and integrate with various aspects of business, there’s never been a greater need for practical artificial intelligence and ethics training. IEEE offers continuing education that provides professionals with the knowledge needed to integrate AI within their products and operations. Designed to help organizations apply the theory of ethics to the design and business of AI systems, Artificial Intelligence and Ethics in Design is a two-part online course program. It also serves as useful supplemental material in academic settings.

Contact an IEEE Content Specialist to learn more about how this program can benefit your organization.

Interested in getting access for yourself? Visit the IEEE Learning Network (ILN) today!


Johnson, Robin. (3 September 2020). Rolls-Royce claims breakthroughs in artificial intelligence ethics and trustworthiness. BusinessLive.

Technical University of Munich (TUM). (1 September 2020). An embedded ethics approach for AI development. Science Daily.

Simonite, Tom. (28 August 2020). Google Offers to Help Others With the Tricky Ethics of AI. Wired.

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