Responsibility for AI Ethics Shifts to Non-Technical Executives

Business executives are now seen as the driving force in AI ethics, according to a new IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study.

Conducted by Oxford Economics, a total of 1,200 executives in 22 countries and across 22 industries were surveyed. The study revealed a radical shift in the roles responsible for leading and upholding AI ethics at an organization.

Accountability for AI ethics

When asked which function is primarily accountable for AI ethics, 80% of respondents pointed to a non-technical executive as the primary “champion” for AI ethics, a sharp uptick from 15% in 2018.

Specifically, CEOs (28%), board members (10%), general counsels (10%), privacy officers (8%), and risk & compliance officers (6%) were considered the most accountable for AI ethics by those surveyed.

When it comes to having a strong influence on their organization’s ethics strategy, CEOs and other C-level executive garnered two-thirds of the votes (66%), followed by board directives (58%) and the shareholder community (53%).

Crucially, building trustworthy AI is now perceived as a strategic differentiator and more than half of respondents say their organizations are beginning to embed AI ethics into their existing approach to business ethics.

On the other hand, less than a quarter of responding organizations have operationalized AI ethics, and fewer than one in five (20%) of respondents strongly agreed that their organization’s practices and actions match (or exceed) their stated principles and values.

Finally, the study data suggest that those organizations that implement a broad AI ethics strategy interwoven throughout business units may have a competitive advantage moving forward.

The study recommends organizations take a cross-functional, collaborative approach to AI, establish both organizational and AI lifecycle governance to operationalize the discipline of AI ethics and engage AI-focused technology partners for “ethical interoperability”.

“As many companies today use AI algorithms across their business, they potentially face increasing internal and external demands to design these algorithms to be fair, secured, and trustworthy; yet, there has been little progress across the industry in embedding AI ethics into their practices,” said Jesus Mantas, global managing partner at Partner, IBM Consulting.

“Our IBV study findings demonstrate that building trustworthy AI is a business imperative and a societal expectation, not just a compliance issue. As such, companies can implement a governance model and embed ethical principles across the full AI life cycle.”

The full study can be accessed here.

Image credit: iStockphoto/cagkansayin