Transparency and Trust in the Cognitive Era

There are a lot of points of view emerging on artificial intelligence.  Elon Musk, Mark Cuban and others have been vocal on the responsible use or governance of artificial intelligence.  IBM’s version of this could really be called augmented intelligence because it is a more responsible approach to augmenting human decision making rather than simply replacing it .. as some would have it.

We all have to prepare for a future in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a growing role.  The White House released a report on future directions and considerations for AI called Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.  This report surveys the current state of AI, its existing and potential applications, and the questions that progress in AI raise for society and public policy. The report also makes recommendations for specific further actions. A companion National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan is also being released, laying out a strategic plan for Federally-funded research and development in AI.

We are in the early days of a promising new technology, and of the new era to which it is giving birth.  This technology is as radically different from the programmable systems that have been produced by the IT industry for half a century as those systems were from the tabulators that preceded them.

Commonly referred to as Artificial Intelligence, this new generation of technology and the cognitive systems it helps power will soon touch every facet of work and life – with the potential to radically transform them for the better.  This is because these systems can ingest and understand all forms of data, which is being produced at an unprecedented rate.

Cognitive systems like IBM’s Watson can reason over this data, forming hypotheses and judgments.  Most importantly, these systems are not simply programmed, they learn – from their own experiences, their interactions with humans and the outcomes of their judgments.

As with every prior world-changing technology, this technology carries major implications.  Many of the questions it raises are unanswerable today and will require time, research and open discussion to answer. It is both pragmatic and wise to establish principles to guide the evolution and adoption of AI.  IBM is establishing the following principles for the Cognitive Era:

Purpose: The purpose of AI and cognitive systems developed and applied by the IBM company is to augment human intelligence. The technology, products, services and policies will be designed to enhance and extend human capability, expertise and potential.  IBM’s position is based not only on principle but also on science. Cognitive systems will not realistically attain consciousness or independent agency. Rather, they will increasingly be embedded in the processes, systems, products and services by which business and society function – all of which will and should remain within human control.

Transparency: For cognitive systems to fulfill their world-changing potential, it is vital that people have confidence in their recommendations, judgments and uses. Therefore, the IBM company will make clear:

* When and for what purposes AI is being applied in the cognitive solutions IBM develops and deploys.

* The major sources of data and expertise that inform the insights of cognitive solutions, as well as the methods used to train those systems and solutions.

* The principle that clients own their own business models and intellectual property and that they can use AI and cognitive systems to enhance the advantages they have built, often through years of experience.  IBM will work with it’s clients to protect their data and insights, and will encourage it’s clients, partners and industry colleagues to adopt similar practices.

Skills: The economic and societal benefits of this new era will not be realized if the human side of the equation is not supported. This is uniquely important with cognitive technology, which augments human intelligence and expertise and works collaboratively with humans.  Therefore, the IBM company will work to help students, workers and citizens acquire the skills and knowledge to engage safely, securely and effectively in a relationship with cognitive systems, and to perform the new kinds of work and jobs that will emerge in a cognitive economy.

IBM believes it’s experience over more than a century and the daily work with clients from every industry and sector around the world have taught it that transparency and principles that engender trust are important for both business and society.  However, IBM also recognize that there is much learning ahead for all of us. In that spirit, it is hoped that the publication of these tenets can spark an industry-wide – indeed, a society-wide – dialogue on the fundamental questions that must be answered, in order to achieve the economic and societal potential of a cognitive future.

Industry organizations like the Cognitive Computing Consortium have been out front on these kinds of issues.

As always, leave me your thoughts and comments below.