Ethics regulator needed for technology industry, research finds

By Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent
·2-min read

The technology sector should have an ethics regulator to monitor standards in areas like the creation of artificial intelligence (AI), a new poll has shown.

Research carried out by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, found many people do not trust the sector to create software which could make decisions about their lives.

According to the study, 59% of UK adults believe the industry should have an independent regulator ensuring its work is focused on solving problems in society.

The survey of more than 2,000 people also suggests many do not trust tech companies to self-regulate or politicians to oversee them.

In fact, only half of those asked said they trust computer science graduates to create AI that could improve quality of life.

Meanwhile, 62% believe programmers should have to qualify as chartered professionals, meeting the same standards as chartered accountants.

A total of 63% said they do not think new computer science graduates are qualified to write software that could be involved in making decisions about people.

The results come in the wake of some high-profile incidents involving criticism of the implementation of AI, including the use of algorithms to estimate exam results

The Government is currently preparing its Online Harms Bill, which will propose an independent regulator is introduced to oversee internet firms and ensure they fulfil a duty of care to users.

Andy Phippen, a fellow of BCS and professor of IT ethics and digital rights at Bournemouth University, said: “There are plenty of people within academia who would view ethical parts of the curriculum as a distraction from ‘proper’ courses that consider technical facets of computer science.

“One test I have often done with computer science students is ‘would you get on to an aeroplane you’d written the software for?’ Most will say no.

“Given the greater prevalence of algorithms and increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence being used in Government and private sector systems to decide things about our lives, it is essential that anyone studying computer science also receives a good grounding in ethics and social responsibility.

“While we have patches of IT regulation, including the ICO, for data, and Ofcom’s role in social media harms due to be made law soon, I’m not sure we’ve yet got the right oversight across all the aspects of IT.

“Many people who have not studied computer science are involved in the design, delivery, implementation, running and assurance of computer systems. They should all be appropriately qualified and independently accredited.”