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Companies Must Prioritise AI Ethics Over Profits, Says Microsoft Director

Ross Kelly



Microsoft UK’s Hugh Milward said companies must “draw a line” on what is deemed acceptable when developing emerging technologies.



Companies must avoid creating artificial intelligence that is unethical or harmful even if it affects their profits, according to a senior director at Microsoft UK.

Hugh Wilward, senior director of Corporate, External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft UK, said businesses must “draw a line” on what is deemed acceptable when developing cutting-edge, emerging technologies.

“Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done,” Milward told the Tech UK Digital Ethics Summit in London.

Ethical Responsibility

The Digital Ethics Summit saw figures from industry and government explore how the UK can remain a global leader in building digital services and technology.

The benefits of new technology for the public were explored in detail throughout the event, particularly the use of artificial intelligence. Creating and deploying these technologies, Milward argued, requires a great degree of responsibility on the part of the creator and/or provider.

“It is essential to build trust in technology such as AI,” Milward told delegates. “People can see the benefits of it in sectors such as healthcare but they also have concerns around the invasion of privacy and job losses. They can see change is coming and they want governments and society to be involved in that.”

Milward outlined “three key aspects of AI development” that must be addressed; building ethical principles, regulation of facial recognition, and helping people develop digital skills to adapt to a changing work environment.

Artificial intelligence is already in use throughout the public and private sector. The NHS, in particular, along with major retailers such as Marks & Spencer use this emerging technology to improve work practices, productivity and efficiency.

Milward predicted that the demand for artificial intelligence will grow in the coming years, highlighting research published by Microsoft which shows that nearly half of bosses believe their business model won’t exist by 2023.

Read more: UK Faces Massive Jobs Threat Through AI Disruption, Warns Chief Economist

Similarly, this research showed that nearly half (41%) of business leaders believe they will have to dramatically change their work practices within the next five years. Of these, more than half (51%) have no AI strategy in place to address future challenges, Milward added.

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Retaining Trust

Milward’s comments echoed those of Margot James MP, Minister of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who also underlined the need for ethical responsibility and public reassurance.

During her keynote speech at the event, James highlighted the “amazing opportunities, prosperity and growth” that technology currently offers, and will continue to do so in the future.

This prosperity, she conceded, is only possible if emerging technologies are treated with extreme care during their early development so as to outline concrete ethical guidelines and “retain the trust of society”.

In an interview with The Telegraph last week, James suggested the public must “get over” privacy and cybersecurity concerns and embrace new technologies and trends, such as digital identity.

Read more: British Public Must “Get Over” Privacy Concerns, Says Margot James

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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