The end of the year is an appropriate juncture to take stock of the first six months of IGS’ new consultancy service in data and AI ethics and to set out our plans for 2024 and beyond, now that the service has been established. The end of the year has also coincided with our inaugural summit in data and AI ethics, which we used as the launch event for the service.
In this article I offer some reflections on where we are and where we’re going, starting with a brief report of the summit, concluding with an articulation of where we intend to take our data and AI ethics service from 2024 onwards, and why IGS should be your first port of call, whatever the challenges in this area you or your organisation faces.
Part 1: IGS’ Inaugural Summit in Data and AI Ethics
On Friday 8th December, we hosted our inaugural summit in data and AI ethics.
The purpose of the event was fourfold:
- to launch and introduce our new consultancy service in data and AI ethics;
- to gain insights into what some of the most salient sector and industry-specific ethical challenges are in data and AI so that we can optimise our consultancy service;
- to bring leaders in these various sectors and industries together for networking and collaboration in meeting these challenges;
- and to begin an ongoing series of what we will hope will be an invaluable, regular, forum for professionals working across the broad landscape of data and AI to raise, discuss, and find solutions to the ethical challenges that they encounter.
Given those four aims, this first event was something of an experiment for us, so we were delighted that it became such a hugely successful day that was, we hope, a valuable experience for all the speakers, panellists, and attendees – which included representatives of several existing IGS clients – who made time to come along and take part.
Needless to say, the speakers, panellists, and attendees were all central to the event’s success, as were the whole team at IGS, so we’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who generously gave their time to be a part of it.
As this was our first event, we wanted to cast our net wide, in terms of both the sectors to be represented and the particular data and AI ethics topics to be discussed. In subsequent events we plan to focus on specific questions and sectors, targeting a narrower range of speakers, panellists, and other attendees accordingly when programming the event. However, we decided that to launch the service and learn as much as possible about the data and AI ethics landscape in general in one day, we would seek to make the most of the breadth of that landscape.
With that in mind, we invited leading professionals from a range of sectors likely to encounter important ethical challenges in data and AI use. So, by extension, we invited representatives from professions where high-level consultancy expertise in data and AI ethics, such as we can provide at IGS, is likely to be needed and of value.
We couldn’t invite representatives from every sector where our services might be useful, so we had to be judicious. As such, the programme featured speakers and panellists working in or who have worked in academia; healthcare; medical research; law; publishing; data policy and governance; international data regulation; social media; commerce; and retail. In addition, the programme comprised experienced fellow consultants working in data whose clients have data and AI ethics needs which it may be possible for IGS to provide on a partnership basis.
Here are some more details about our speakers, panellists, and attendees.
Presentations from our speakers cut across several of the sectors listed.
We had talks from Durham University academic Dr. David Lawrence discussing ethical and governance risks associated with brain state data in emerging neurotechnologies; University of Warwick academics Prof. Tom Sorell on AI ethics in police surveillance, and Prof. Keith Hyams and Dr. Jessica Sutherland on risks of harm through misrepresentation by faulty inferences made by AIs.
Wolfgang Hauptfleisch, Head of Product at the social networking company Scooploop, presented intersecting work on ethical risks of recommendation algorithms, from an industry rather than an academic perspective. Also presenting industry perspectives, Sarah Clarke, Director of Infospectives, discussed how best to make space for and build AI ethics into governance frameworks; and Prof. Markus Krebsz from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe presenting his recent work leading the development of UN policy for regulatory compliance in embedded AI.
These detailed, expert presentations gave a rich, multi-perspective view on salient ethical implications of data and AI governance across society. They were complemented by four panels, which were likewise programmed deliberately for gaining insights into relevant ethical challenges in a range of sectors.
As with our speakers, it wasn’t possible to feature panels giving exhaustive representation of all professions in which data and AI ethics consultancy could be of value, so we focused our choice on a few key sectors where such a service is clearly applicable.
Health care and research panel
Our health care and research panel featured perspectives on data and AI ethics challenges from a range of professions in the sector. Dr. Sheuli Porkess, Chief Medical Officer of Precisia C2-AI, discussed the trade-offs involved in using AI for risk stratification in patients; Jasmin Kaur, Director of UK Advocacy at 1 Day Sooner, presented ethical challenges raised when conducting international challenge trials in pandemic and other public health emergencies; and Denis Roche, Founder of eAltra, described the ethical implications of using AI in a chatbot for real-time information exchange about cancer symptoms.
The law panel comprised Stewart Duffy, Legal Director at CyXcel and Weightmans, and Kitty Boxall, Legal Engineering Lead at Robin AI. These two experts presented contrasting perspectives on ethical implications of AI from a legal perspective. Stewart Duffy gave a detailed account of the complexities and risks of AI governance, given the imperfect relation between ethics and the law; and Kitty Boxall articulated some of the practical ethical engineering challenges involved in using AI for designing and reviewing legal contracts.
We featured an academia panel, in view of the opportunities that exist for collaboration between academia and industry with respect to data and AI ethics and given that both my colleague William and I are ex-academics moving to apply our knowledge as private sector consultants. The panel featured Dr. Michael Morrison from the HeLEX group at the University of Oxford and Dr. David Lawrence from Durham University kindly standing in for Dr. John Zerilli who because of illness was unable to make it to London from the University of Edinburgh as planned. Our third panellist, Pascal Hetzscholdt, Senior Director of Content Protection at the academic publisher Wiley, represented the other end of the academic process, which is to say, the point of dissemination after research has been conducted and written up. The panel presented a comprehensive picture, from a research perspective, of a wide range of practical ethical risks in data and AI governance, and offered reflections on how private sector data and AI ethics consultancy can partner effectively with academics working in the field.
Data and AI ethics consultancy networks panel
Complementing these three sector-specific groups of panellists, we also featured a panel of highly experienced data consultants focusing deliberately on how effective, tailored consultancy networks can be formed, and in which IGS’ data and AI ethics service can be used for meeting particular client needs. On the basis of their experience working with clients from a range of sectors encompassing financial services, commerce, and retail, the panellists raised several data and AI ethics challenges and potential consultancy-based solutions to them. Our panellists were Evgeniya Fedoseeva, Founder of Generation KM; Prasad Prabhakaran, Generative AI Practice Lead at eSynergy; and Maria Santacaterina, independent consultant and author of the Wiley-published AI strategy book Adaptive Resilience.
Finally, we used the summit to provide a platform for IGS itself, forming a panel comprised of IGS colleagues representing both the data compliance and data ethics sides of our consultancy. These two components are designed to interlock and work together to provide a comprehensive and robust data governance advice service, taking account of both legal and ethical risks. The panel featured Sarah Tantin, Information Law Consultant; Amal Bushara, Data Protection Advisor; and William Chan, Junior Data Ethics Consultant.
Part 2: End of 2023 Round-Up and Looking Ahead to 2024
End of 2023 Round-Up
The end of 2023 marks the completion of the first six months of IGS’ new consultancy service in data and AI ethics. Our inaugural summit was the official launch event for our service, so having reviewed the event, next it makes sense to review how the first six months have gone; on why we have begun this journey and how it’s going; before setting out how we plan to build on this over 2024.
IGS is a consultancy which has hitherto provided advice exclusively about legal aspects of data governance and compliance. This is to say, IGS advises clients on what the law permits and forbids them from doing with the data that they handle. It’s a reasonable enough assumption to make that if your organisation operates within the law, there are no other standards that it should be obliged to meet.
However, for reasons I’ve outlined in other articles here and here, we cannot necessarily assume in all cases either that lawful uses exhaust all the concerns that an organisation should take into account if it wants to observe the highest possible standards of data governance; nor that all lawful uses are necessarily ethical. If we add to this the reality that technological possibilities for data and AI analysis are likely to move faster than the regulatory environment; and that it is characteristic of AI in particular that its usefulness derives in part from its capacity to produce novel, and otherwise unpredictable, insights, it is clear why there is a timely and pressing need for data and AI ethics to be considered an integral part of the governance landscape. This is the rationale guiding the expansion of IGS’ data governance services to encompass data and AI ethics.
Over the first six months of this expansion, our main tasks have been to: define the service; identify our market and potential clients; make it known to potential clients that IGS offers a service that can meet their data and AI ethics needs as well as those relating to legal compliance; and on the basis of this, be in a position to begin client engagement in 2024.
We have succeeded in these tasks. Through active engagement in the data and AI ethics professional community, via LinkedIn and participation in events such as Big Data London and MKAI’s Global AI Safety Forum, we have identified and been able to refine our own understanding of what help we can offer and to whom. Through our regular Insight Articles in data ethics, my colleague William and I have produced analysis which both demonstrates the depth and breadth of our technical and practical expertise in data ethics, and makes this known to our professional community. We have iterated the definition of our data and AI ethics consultancy service through all of these activities and via engagement with potential clients and partners. And the first six months has culminated in our first resoundingly successful summit, which we used to launch the service, and where this article began. Finally, then, we can set out our vision for IGS’ data and AI ethics consultancy service in 2024.
Looking Ahead to 2024
Having used our first six months to design our data and AI ethics consultancy service, from 2024 onwards IGS is able to help clients and partners with all organisational data and AI ethics governance-related needs. The service we offer is distinctive in ways that we believe can make us leaders in data and AI ethics consultancy, and we have designed the service in such a way that it represents the most reliable option available in this sector.
Given the rapidly growing recognition of the social ethical significance of data and AI, and given the power, reach, and ubiquity of these technological innovations, high level expertise in data and AI ethics have never been more urgently needed. This need is going to continue to grow, rather than diminish, and as such it is a timely moment for IGS to set up the service. In view of this growing need, we anticipate that large corporate consultancy firms will begin to offer consultancy in data and AI ethics. However, our view at IGS is that your organisation may have prudential reasons to seek these consultancy services from us rather than one of these larger companies.
I have made the argument in another article here that if your organisation faces data and AI ethics challenges and you need to consult an expert about how to manage this, you should take steps to ensure that you are getting the level of expertise that you need. Our view about this is that there is no substitute for the highest level of formal training in theoretical and applied (data and AI) ethics and for this reason we believe that in offering this service as doctorate-holding ex-academics, my colleague William and I can guarantee that we can provide consultancy advice based on a depth and breadth of expertise sufficient for ensuring peace of mind, whatever the data and AI ethics challenges that your organisation might face. In addition to myself and William, we have a network of vetted and highly skilled academic ethics experts who are also available, should a specific project be more time-consuming than what our present capacity allows.
In general, as research-based disciplines mature, increasing numbers of professionals migrate from the academy, to apply their expertise in the private sector or in professional contexts elsewhere in the public sector. Despite its rapid growth, data and AI ethics remains, for the time being, a relatively new area of theoretical and applied ethics. As such, there are not yet a great many individuals or companies making these high-level expertise available beyond the academy. Indeed, a cursory survey of the landscape shows clearly that the majority of the most prominent professionals in data and AI ethics are primarily academics.
Because the majority of the experts in our field are in academia, it follows that, for the most part, you would need to hire an academic for most data and AI ethics consultancy purposes. However, hiring academics for independent consultancy work can often be (although is not necessarily) a lengthy process due to the complexities of university administration. This is not the case with IGS’ data and AI ethics service.
Looking ahead to 2024, we are in a position to be a leader in our field, since we can offer formal expertise of the highest level, unlike many of our likely competitors. In addition, because we are a small consultancy with very straightforward administration, you can hire us quickly and efficiently, and we can deliver work that you can trust equally quickly and efficiently.
In whatever sector you or your organisation operates, IGS’ data and AI ethics consultancy service can meet your needs. We can provide short or long-term consultancy, tailored precisely to your requirements. We can help your organisation gain a better understanding of the ethical principles and processes according to which it wants and ought to operate; we can provide training, and we help with policy and process development at all levels, from the ground up. All of our work in data and AI ethics is grounded in academic expertise gained at the highest level, and which can be depended upon. As we look ahead to 2024, if we can be of help, get in touch with us at IGS.