The SHERPA project co-hosts the European Parliament’s workshop on Policy options for the ethical governance of disruptive technologies

On 23 March 2021 SHERPA partnered with the SIENNA and PANELFIT projects and the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) panel to host the online conference “Policy options for the ethical governance of disruptive technologies”, moderated by BBC journalist Vivienne Parry.

In view of the upcoming legislative proposal on artificial intelligence (AI), the conference had three primary aims:

  • to identify key ethical issues and challenges of AI,
  • discuss best practices for mitigating these risks, and
  • build on these learnings to ensure that ethics and societal values are prioritised in the design and development of future technologies.

Opening remarks by Susana Solis Perez, MEP and STOA panel member Despina Spanou emphasized the importance of an EU-wide approach to artificial intelligence. They outlined the need for high standards of protection of fundamental rights, to ensure the responsible development, deployment, and use of these technologies in order to achieve positive social impact.

This was followed by the first panel discussion of the event, based on the results of the SHERPA project. The SHERPA project aims to prioritise ethics and fundamental rights in the design and development of smart information systems, by developing ethical and legal frameworks, as well as policy recommendations for the ethical design and implementation of artificial intelligence technologies and big data.

The panel, entitled, “Ethical, social and legal challenges of AI – Open questions and outstanding challenges” featured MEPs, academics, technology developers and policymakers, engaged in a lively discussion focused on delineating best practices for harnessing the benefits of AI in order to improve society and citizens’ lives while mitigating potential ethical, social, and legal risks.

SHERPA coordinator Bernd Stahl framed the panel discussion nicely, asking “How can we construct AI ecosystems with governance structures that provide incentives for Ethical AI?”, which sparked discussion on the importance of EU-wide initiatives to support a harmonised approach to the ethical governance of new and emerging technologies.

Shortly after followed the second panel, based on the results of the PANELFIT project, “Mitigation options – What can be done to identify and address current and future challenges of emerging technologies?”. This panel also featured MEPs, privacy engineers, academics and developers, in discussion on how to better understand and address the ethical implications of new and emerging technologies in the early stages of design and development, in order to minimise potential negative implications on society.

These interactive discussions were followed by a keynote speech from Yoshua Bengio, University of Montreal. Bengio, one of the world’s leading experts in artificial intelligence, considered how governments can incentivise technology development and AI innovation in a way that promotes long-term benefits for society, for example, open science, data sharing and use of rewards based on delayed technological outcomes, rather than simply grants. You can access the presentation here.

Bengio’s keynote was followed by the event’s final panel, based on the results of the SIENNA project, “Beyond AI – Ethics and human rights implications of emerging technologies”. In addition to MEPs, this panel featured AI Ethicists, and academics, who considered best practices for building ethical and legal regulatory frameworks, in order to ensure the ethical governance of new and emerging technologies. The discussion focused on the importance of protecting democratic values and fundamental rights, to ensure that technology works for the people, rather than against them.

The final panel was followed by a Roundtable discussion on policy options from an international perspective. The discussion considered how we can enhance global efforts in standards development in strategic emerging technology fields, and the role of the EU as an ethics trailblazer.

Finally, the event was closed by Mariya Gabriel, European Commissions for Culture Education and Youth, and Eva Kailli, MEP and STOA Chair, who reiterated the importance of strengthening a harmonised EU-wide approach to the design and development of future and emerging technologies that prioritises ethical and social values, in order to enrich and improve society.

The event, moderated by Vivienne Parry, featured Q&A sessions with audience members and opened up critical discussion on how we can make use of artificial intelligence and big data for the public good. You can watch a recording of the event here.