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New Edinburgh Consultancy Looks to Shake Up AI Ethics

Ross Kelly

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Edinburgh AI Ethics

Ethical Intelligence, set to launch later this month, aims to change how companies consider the ethical implications of the technologies they develop, use and deploy. 

Ethical Intelligence (EI), a new consultancy startup aimed at developing interdisciplinary solutions to ethical questions in the field of AI and Big Data, is set to officially launch this month (August 2019).

Led by female co-founders, Olivia Gambelin and Anna van Oosterzee, the consultancy, which will be based at the Bayes Centre in the heart of Edinburgh, seeks to develop a network of experts spanning a number of fields to examine the theoretical and technical aspects of the lingering problems surrounding applied ethics in technology.

Gambelin told DIGIT that the consultancy wants to “bridge the gap” between academia and industry in regards to ethics in technology – drawing upon both industry practitioners and those capable of looking at emerging technologies “from the outside in”.

She says: “At the core of our company, we take an inter-disciplinary approach to this topic [AI ethics] because it’s not something that can just be solved by someone with a PhD in, say, machine learning or someone with a PhD in ethics. Those fields are both too narrow, so we want to put them together and work from there.”

In 2018, Gambelin co-founded the Beneficial AI Society – an official society at the University of Edinburgh, which brought students from a range of academic backgrounds together to discuss ongoing developments within the AI ethics field. Her experiences engaging with other students at this society helped generate the idea behind Ethical Intelligence.

“We would meet once a week with students from a range of backgrounds, in a pub, to talk about some of the issues of AI ethics,” she explains. “We noticed, after a while, there were commercial interests in what the group was doing.”

“We saw this interest and thought, well, there is a demand here that’s not being met. Both Anna and I figured there’s a large demand. There’s also a large supply. But there’s nobody in the middle. I guess that’s where EI will come in,” Gambelin adds.

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Underpinning both the company and founder team’s ambition is the belief that, while AI development is an exciting area, ethics should not be an afterthought and instead form an integral part of the early development process.

“With Ethical Intelligence, we don’t create software, we don’t create artificial intelligence. We have experts that would, but we specifically take this human base because we want to bring the human aspect back into this and into the process,” Gambelin explains.

“We are bringing the human back into AI to make it more responsible and, while we really do want to push AI development forward, we want it to be done in a responsible manner than keeps human dignity at the centre of it.”

In years to come, incorporating academics from backgrounds such as philosophy will be key to solving some of the most challenging ethical quandaries that surround the development of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, Gambelin believes. Sometimes, she adds, leaving tech development solely to ‘techies’ can neglect a critical consideration; the real-world human impact.

“This is vital,” she asserts. “Because what can happen is, if you stay just within the tech field, for example, then it becomes its own echo chamber in a sense. You need that outside perspective coming in. You need someone that’s not completely tech-focused to bring the human element back into this.”

“You need people to really take a higher view looking in. It’s been very cool to watch this open up to people coming from fields outside of the technology sector. It makes the technology we are developing more responsible and more holistic.”

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The company has already broken ground ahead of its official launch later this month. In June, EI soft-launched its student Summer Program, which aimed to test the company’s developed methods and processes and kicked off with its first three client projects.

So far, this process has helped Gambelin and the team at EI to fine-tune their capabilities and ready the consultancy for its launch, scheduled for late-August. Similarly, students involved with the summer program have been expanding their horizons, so to speak, in regards to their understanding of AI ethics; opening up opportunities within the technology sector to those who previously viewed it as an off-limits area.

“They’ve all enjoyed it so far and they’re all getting different things out of it,” Gambelin says. “Students coming from philosophy backgrounds, or even political science-type people are coming in, learning new things and building their confidence in this subject.”

Working with partners, EI is also playing a key role in the development of ethical frameworks on a number of projects, she adds, with the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF an area of particular excitement.

“UNICEF, the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Government are teaming up at The Data Lab to look at improving outcomes for children through using data and data science,” she explains.”We’re working with them on a number of deliverables in relation to how they operate from an ethical standpoint.”

For additional information on Ethical Intelligence and its official launch this month, visit www.ethicalintelligence.co

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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