10 things that happened whilst I was on maternity leave (and two that didn’t)
Number 6: Trying to keep pace with Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is such a fast- (and self-?) developing topic that it is difficult to keep pace. AI systems are being developed and applied across many different industries. They can assist to address complex problems, increase efficiency and quality of tasks, complement human actions, and provide related public benefits.

Examples of technologies which may make use of AI include facial recognition for security systems, smart voice assistants (such as Alexa), big data analytics for marketing and healthcare, chatbots for recruitment, monitoring systems to predict crimes, smart contracts for financial transactions, and self-driving cars.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Several legal-related publications have sought to provide definitions of artificial intelligence. Some are fairly short…

  • "the use of digital technology to create systems capable of performing tasks commonly thought to require intelligence"1
  • "…the analysis of data to model some aspect of the world. Inferences from these models are then used to predict and anticipate possible future events"2
  • "…giving computers behaviours which would be thought intelligent in human beings"3

…and others are more lengthy:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are software (and possibly also hardware) systems designed by humans that, given a complex goal, act in the physical or digital dimension by perceiving their environment through data acquisition, interpreting the collected structured or unstructured data, reasoning on the knowledge, or processing the information, derived from this data and deciding the best action(s) to take to achieve the given goal. AI systems can either use symbolic rules or learn a numeric model, and they can also adapt their behaviour by analysing how the environment is affected by their previous actions.

    As a scientific discipline, AI includes several approaches and techniques, such as machine learning (of which deep learning and reinforcement learning are specific examples), machine reasoning (which includes planning, scheduling, knowledge representation and reasoning, search, and optimization), and robotics (which includes control, perception, sensors and actuators, as well as the integration of all other techniques into cyber-physical systems)."4

Legal and ethical conundrums

AI brings with it legal and ethical concerns and conundrums, for example:

  • Intellectual property: Can creative works and inventions generated by AI be subject to copyright and patent protection?
  • Data protection: Do sophisticated data processing activities using AI technologies address principles such as data minimisation, accuracy and transparency?
  • Contracts: Can a smart contract meet the requirements for a legal contract? Does auto-execution prejudice the ability of a party to terminate or amend the contract due to external factors?
  • Equality: Can AI algorithms be used to combat bias in decision-making, or might the underlying design and data sets increase bias?
  • Data ethics: Do AI technologies used to analyse data demonstrate sufficient quality, accountability, and respect for human rights? Consider, for example, the ethical sensitivities in sectors such as healthcare and criminal justice.

Recent publications

  • Ethics guidelines for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence. These guidelines were published on 8 April 2019 by the High-Level Expert Group on AI set up by the EU Commission (following draft guidelines from December 2018). They consider ethical principles for trustworthy AI, and outline key requirements for development, deployment and use of trustworthy AI.
  • ICO’s AI auditing framework blog. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is developing a framework for auditing and supervising AI applications. It aims to launch a formal consultation by January 2020 and publish its guidance during 2020. In the meantime, it has a blog discussing specific AI risk areas such as data minimisation, human reviews, explaining decisions, security, and discrimination.

Olivia Whitcroft, principal of OBEP, 29 August 2019

1 from "A guide to using artificial intelligence in the public sector" dated 10 June 2019 by the UK Government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence.

2 from the UK ICO’s "guide to big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data protection" dated 4 September 2017, and deriving from the Government Office for Science’s paper on AI dated 9 November 2016.

3 from the UK ICO’s "guide to big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data protection" dated 4 September 2017, and deriving from the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour.

4 from "A definition of AI: main capabilities and disciplines" dated 8 April 2019 by the High-Level Expert Group on AI set up by the EU Commission.

This article provides general information on the subject matter and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. If you would like to discuss this topic, please contact Olivia Whitcroft using the contact details set out here: Contact Details