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AI strategy: building your digital ethics framework

  • Posted on August 8, 2017
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
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Neural networks. Autonomous things. Intelligent agents. Speech recognition. Cognitive computing. Machine Learning. These are all considered smart technologies, which fall under the Artificial Intelligence (AI) umbrella. Technology innovations are becoming more affordable, more widely adopted and more ubiquitous every day. AI promises a completely new way for us to work, interact and serve our customers and employees. 

Brave new world 
Avanade’s recent research confirms that 90 percent of C-level executive and IT decision-maker respondents agree that their organizations’ workforce will need to adapt in response to smart technologies. We are seeing healthcare AI applications range from detecting cancer and diabetic blindness to IoT devices powering distributed health unlocked by data. AI is charting new ground in banking as well as driving on our roads with autonomous vehicles and pizza-delivering drones. In addition, AI is moving into our offices through human resources applications like hiring, retention and performance. Recent Gartner research predicts that by 2018, over 3 million workers will be supervised by a robot boss next year. AI’s proliferation triggers our hopes and imaginations for what’s in store for our business and our industry.

Unchartered territory and potential risks
But what’s equally striking is the magnitude and weight of uncertainty in our digitally-transformed future. Aside from the more dangerous predictions of our doomsday, AI introduces unchartered moral and ethical dilemmas, a staggering new scale to potential risks and copious unintentional consequences, all which rest squarely on our shoulders. We have a lot at stake. Time and time again, splashed across our headlines, we get very alarming and very real reminders about wide-reaching data breaches, racial and gender bias in algorithms, spying internet-connected devices, botnets and IoT hacks or complex moral problems that we can’t answer, such as the self-driving car crash conundrum. These sobering reminders should not damper the boundless excitement for our AI-first world, but rather motivate us to take control over our digital destiny. As a first step, businesses need to establish digital ethics standards that will guide our journey.

Building your digital ethics framework 
Avanade’s TechVision 2017 includes guidance and discussion around digital ethics. Drawing from that, here are three best practices to consider when creating a digital ethics framework for your business:

1. Start with the customer
At the outset, before adopting any new technology start with what’s best for your customers and employees. Rather than what’s possible or what’s easy, it starts with your people. A laser focus on your end user will help shape your digital ethics processes. Starting with the customer, and not the technology, guarantees that the standards and ethics that accompany your digital approach will be shaped and informed by what your business can do best for its customers.

2. Data transparency
Digital ethics is no different than business ethics. Your existing business code of ethics and compliance with the existing legal landscape is an important starting point for digital ethics. The big difference lies in a much greater responsibility businesses need to take to protect the vast amounts of data and information that is generated and collected in our AI-first reality. Businesses require much more thoughtful processes and much greater awareness at all levels to successfully protect information and data from being mishandled. From the very beginning, organizations must be transparent with its customers and employees around how much data should be gathered, how data is being used, how it must be treated, and what is and is not acceptable. 

3. Ethics at all levels 
Digital ethics requires organizations to maintain a regular dialogue with stakeholders around ethical issues. This means standards, guidelines and processes at your organization around ethics is not left up to software developers or engineers to figure out. A regular ethics review cycle is critical. For example, for updating policies around customer data protection, regular review cycles help build clear expectations for customers and inform employees how this information should be treated. 

These are the building blocks for getting started with digital ethics and required for charting a course in our AI-first world that’s rapidly adopting technology that is smarter than ever.   

Learn more about how organizations are thinking about smart technologies and digital ethics in our latest research report.

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