Summary: OECD Principles on AI

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has just released a list of recommendations to promote the development of AI that is “innovative and trustworthy and that respects human rights and democratic values”. The principles are meant to complement existing OECD standards around security, risk management and business practices, and could be seen as a response to concerns around the potential for AI systems to undermine democracy.

The principles were developed by a panel consisting of more than 50 experts from 20 countries, as well as leaders from business, civil society, academic and scientific communities. It should be noted that these principles are not legally binding and should be thought of as suggestions that might influence the decision-making of the stakeholders involved in AI development i.e. all of us. The OECD recognises that:

  • AI has pervasive, far-reaching and global implications that are transforming societies, economic sectors and the world of work, and are likely to increasingly do so in the future;
  • AI has the potential to improve the welfare and well-being of people, to contribute to positive sustainable global economic activity, to increase innovation and productivity, and to help respond to key global challenges;
  • And that, at the same time, these transformations may have disparate effects within, and between societies and economies, notably regarding economic shifts, competition, transitions in the labour market, inequalities, and implications for democracy and human rights, privacy and data protection, and digital security;
  • And that trust is a key enabler of digital transformation; that, although the nature of future AI applications and their implications may be hard to foresee, the trustworthiness of AI systems is a key factor for the diffusion and adoption of AI; and that a well-informed whole-of-society public debate is necessary for capturing the beneficial potential of the technology [my emphasis], while limiting the risks associated with it;

The recommendations identify five complementary values-based principles for the responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI (while these principles are meant to be general, they’re clearly also appropriate in the more specific context of healthcare):

  • AI should benefit people and the planet by driving inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being.
  • AI systems should be designed in a way that respects the rule of law, human rights, democratic values and diversity, and they should include appropriate safeguards – for example, enabling human intervention where necessary – to ensure a fair and just society.
  • There should be transparency and responsible disclosure around AI systems to ensure that people understand AI-based outcomes and can challenge them.
  • AI systems must function in a robust, secure and safe way throughout their life cycles and potential risks should be continually assessed and managed.
  • Organisations and individuals developing, deploying or operating AI systems should be held accountable for their proper functioning in line with the above principles.

The OECD also provides five recommendations to governments:

  • Facilitate public and private investment in research & development to spur innovation in trustworthy AI.
  • Foster accessible AI ecosystems with digital infrastructure and technologies and mechanisms to share data and knowledge.
  • Ensure a policy environment that will open the way to deployment of trustworthy AI systems.
  • Empower people with the skills for AI and support workers for a fair transition.
  • Co-operate across borders and sectors to progress on responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI.

For a more detailed description of the principles, as well as the background and plans for follow-up and monitoring processes, see the OECD Legal Instrument describing the recommendations.

PHT402: What is the value of a human life?

This is my fourth contribution to a series of weekly posts related to the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. This week’s topic is specifically about torture, but the general principle concerns the rights of the individual vs the rights of society, as well as asking about the relative value of a human life.

free-humanityI’m going to begin by answering the question in the title: “It depends on who’s life you’re talking about”.

When preparing this course I thought that the topic of torture could be used to move a conversation beyond the specific example of torture and look at the broad principle, which concerns the rights of an individual human being weighed against the rights of society. Or, to put it another way, how do we ascribe value to human life? I hadn’t really considered the possibility of a physiotherapist being asked about a patient’s physical condition in order to determine whether or not they could be hurt by someone else. It shouldn’t have surprised me though, since in South Africa we have a long history of our medical profession being complicit in human rights abuses that include torture (as highlighted in one of the readings for this week).

Even though the topic of torture has been questioned as part of this course, I think that the principles that emerged from the week’s discussions are relevant to other areas of our practice. For example, how many lives is one life worth? What value do we place on human lives? Are all human lives valued the same? These questions bring us back to the idea of equality and morality. Are we all equal? In what ways are we equal? How different are our boundaries of what is “right” and “wrong”? Is torture ever the “right” thing to do? The United Nations says it never is. But, there are times when your personal morality might say that torture absolutely is necessary. Wendy expressed this nicely when she asked about actions that may be morally wrong but which are morally justifiable.

I think that these are interesting questions that don’t need to be answered, but talking about them may help us to figure out some things about ourselves.

Naom makes two good points in her post, which are that your thinking around this topic is influenced by how you value human life, and whether the value of lives from those within your group is higher than those outside of it. As noble as we like to think we are, we do inherently place more value on certain lives than on others and this is where the importance of context comes in. My daughter’s life is more valuable to me than any other child in the world because she is my  daughter. She doesn’t need to have any special skills, knowledge or potential in order for me to value her more. As much as I like to think that we’re all equal, I have to acknowledge that we don’t all have the same value.

Um’r makes the point that for thousands of years, human beings have consistently looked for more and more ingenious ways to inflict pain and suffering on each other. He also links this week’s topic back to the questions of equality and morality, and then goes on to day that as much as each of us may abhor violence towards others, he asks how far he would go in order to protect those closest to him. This is challenge, to live the life we believe is right, even when faced with difficult choices. If every life is equal (Janine has a simple exercise that explores this), then torture can never be OK.

In the comments on Janine’s post there’s a question about how age could be a deciding factor in determining if a life could be sacrificed to save others.  In one context, age may be an appropriate reason to sacrifice a life but not in every context. For me, this is one of the most difficult skills that we need as health care professionals…the ability to modify our decision making processes depending on the unique context we find ourselves in. There are no universally correct answers to morally ambiguous situations.

Everyone I’ve read so far has focused on the military use of torture, but what about the other reading that briefly looked at the use of torture (or at least complicity in it’s application and cover up) by medical professionals? Tony has explored this by asking how medical professionals can be involved in torture.

I think that one of the most interesting aspects of Week 4s topic has been the emergence of side topics…conversations that were peripherally associated with torture but which became something else. Discussions about the value of life, morality, equality, moral boundaries, etc. all began happening in the comment threads, which was great to read. I think it really highlighted one of the benefits of a course with weak or flexible boundaries and participant-led discussion.

Finally, I’m going to point you to Chantelle’s blog, where she did a great job in relating the week’s broad topic to the South African context, as well as providing a reflective overview of the posts from Week 4. She opened her first post with this quote and I’m going to end with it:

The argument cannot be that we should not torture because it does not work. The argument must be that we should not torture because it is wrong.

Ethics CPD lecture

As part of our commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) in South African healthcare, we’re required to accumulate 5 ethics credits every year. Yesterday I gave a presentation to the staff in our department in order to fulfill this requirement. It went quite well, although being my first time I felt pretty unprepared.

I learnt a lot from the experience and together with the feedback I got from my colleagues, will be able to refine the workshop for next year. One of the main suggestions was to add more interactivity to the session. I definitely agree that this is one area I could’ve improved on, especially with the view to making it more dynamic.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-30

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-28

Assignments

Over the last week I’ve given my fourth year physiotherapy students 2 assignments to be completed over the next few months. Here is a basic rundown of each.

The first assignment is part of the continuous evaluation for the Management module I teach. The students must create a website for a (fictional) private physiotherapy practice. They’ll be using Google Sites as the platform, which seems to be the simplest approach that removes most of the barriers to creating sites for people with no experience in this regard. I wanted to make the technology as small a factor as possible, which I think Sites does quite nicely. The objectives for the students are that they should be better able to:

  • Identify relevant information that potential clients would need to find their practice
  • Identify and make use of professional guidelines on advertising and self-promotion
  • Learn new skills that will better prepare them for practice e.g. establishing an online presence using freely available tools
  • Be creative in how they present themselves and their practices

The second assignment is part of the Ethics and Human Rights in Health module that I teach. Students will use a wiki to explore the differences in community-based physiotherapy in South Africa (University of the Western Cape) and Ireland (Royal College of Surgeons), as part of an international collaborative project on Physiopedia. This assignment will focus on groupwork and collaborative learning, using the content as a framework on which to build a body of shared experiences. They will be working with Irish physiotherapy students to create short narratives on the different learning and practical experiences of stutdents working in both countries. The objectives (for our students) that they should be better able to:

  • Identify relevant sources of information to provide background to the narratives
  • Highlight the role of the physiotherapist in community-based healthcare settings
  • Explore and discuss some of the ethical and patient rights issues inherent in the South African healthcare system
  • Engage in dialogue with students who come from different backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic environments, acknowledging the perspectives of those who experience the world in different ways
  • Make effective use of technology to community with and share ideas with peers who are geographically dispersed
  • Participate in the peer review process, by commenting on the work of other groups

I’ll be reporting on the progress of the students as they work on these assignments, and will be making any findings available following their completion.

Third year ethics assignment

I just wanted to send out a quick post to highlight the great work that one of my third year students has done as part of her ethics assignment.  The idea was to discuss the topic of human rights in South African healthcare using any method that the students wanted to.  I’m getting some great feedback from them, which is pretty exciting considering that students almost never want to discuss their assignments.

Here’s the link: http://laurenharwin.wordpress.com/

If you like the idea, please consider posting a comment or two on her blog, as she is trying to generate a conversation around the topic.

SAAHE ’09: abstract for oral presentation

Here’s the abstract I submitted for SAAHE ’09.  It was submitted for consideration in the Innovations and work in progress category.

Title
The use of blogging as a reflective tool in physiotherapy ethics.

Context
The use of social software in higher education facilitates collaborative learning practices and mirrors the social constructivist principles of education by encouraging deeper engagement with both content and individuals. Reflection promotes higher order cognitive skills that promote critical thinking, and together with ethical reasoning has been shown to contribute to professional development and clinical practice. A blog is a service that allows a user to post ideas online, as well as solicit feedback from others that serve to contribute to an ongoing discussion. This allows for a rich, diverse stream of ideas that provide further inputs into the reflective process.

Aims
The main aim of this study is to evaluate the use of blogging as a tool for enhancing physiotherapy students’ reflective practice during an ethics module. By participating in an online, networked conversation on human rights in healthcare, students will discuss some of the problems inherent in the South African healthcare system, as well as recognise and acknowledge the different viewpoints of others.

What was done
A blogging environment was created to allow only students and the lecturer access to post, read and comment on reflections. Articles relevant to the ethics module were provided for students to read and to inform their reflections. They are required to read and comment on the reflections of their peers, facilitating an ongoing conversation around the topic. On completion of the assignment, students will be asked to evaluate the process.

Impact
With the move towards a more networked society and the increasing use of online tools in education and practice, educators must take cognizance of new approaches to teaching and learning. The use of blogging as a tool for reflective practice has shown positive results in other disciplines but has not been evaluated in physiotherapy education.

Take home message
The use of blogging as a tool for reflection brings significant advantages to the process that are not easily leveraged with any other medium. The characteristics of the platform allow for collaborative discussion, immediate feedback and encourages deeper engagement with the content, all of which facilitate more meaningful interactions and stimulate professional development.