As AI continues its spread into business, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty laid out three ethical principles for responsible AI development in a panel discussion on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland.

“We call them principles for AI, for a cognitive era, to guide what you do,” Rometty said. “It’s frankly our responsibility as leaders out there that are putting these technologies out to guide them in their entry into the world in a safe way.”


IBM has placed its big bet on the idea that data will become the basis of competitive advantage for companies worldwide, and will require AI tools that reason and learn to interpret it and gain insights, Rometty said.

With AI, “the basis is that we would be so overwhelmed with information that it would be impossible for us to internalize it, and use it to what its full value could be,” Rometty said. “But if you could, you could solve problems that are not yet solvable.”

SEE: IBM Watson: The smart person’s guide

IBM Watson is now integrated with cars, iPhones, and healthcare organizations. The cognitive computing system will touch approximately 1 billion people this year through its business solutions across various industries, Rometty said. These are the ethical insights IBM gained from its work.

1. Purpose

Rometty said it’s important for people to develop trust in an AI system. For IBM, the purpose of AI will be to aid humans, not replace them. “We say cognitive, not AI, because we are augmenting intelligence,” Rometty said. “For most of our businesses and companies, it will not be man or machine… it will be a symbiotic relationship. Our purpose is to augment and really be in service of what humans do.”

2. Transparency

You must be clear as you build AI platforms how they are trained, and what data was used in training. “The human needs to remain in control of the system,” Rometty said. These systems will not have self-awareness or consciousness, she added.

And industry domain matters, Rometty added. With Watson, institutions can combine their decades of knowledge with industry data. “These systems will be most effective when trained with domain knowledge in an industry context,” Rometty said.

3. Skills

AI platforms must be built with people in the industry, be they doctors, teachers, or underwriters. And companies must prepare to train human workers on how to use these tools to their advantage.

For example, Watson’s oncology advisor is now rolling out in India, China, Thailand, Finland, and the Netherlands. It was trained by the world’s best oncologists, IBM claims. “You get this reach when those principles are followed, and that to me is the great promise,” Rometty said. “The reason this is worth fighting so strongly to roll out right is you can really solve problems. India has one oncologist for 1,600 patients.”

In September 2016, IBM, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google announced the creation of a Partnership on AI, “established to study and formulate best practices on AI technologies, to advance the public’s understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society,” according to its website.

It’s not the only partnership of this type: In January, the MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University announced the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, which will use $27 million to fund work that “advances the development of ethical AI in the public interest.” The White House also released two reports at the end of 2016 exploring AI’s impact on the workforce, and the role of government in its development and implementation.

“There will be regulations and rules” around responsible AI, Rometty said. “We’re still at the beginning of that robust dialogue.”

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. At the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty laid out three principles for ethical AI deployment, which include purpose, transparency, and skills.
  2. IBM has heavily invested in AI with its Watson cognitive computing system, which is projected to touch 1 billion people in 2017 through its business solutions across various industries, including healthcare and education.
  3. A number of new reports and partnerships among industry, university, and government groups seek to offer guidance on the ethics and implications of AI moving forward.