Press Release - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Belfer Center Convenes Council on the Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence

| Jan. 22, 2019

New effort brings together key stakeholders to explore the policy dimensions of how new technologies should be deployed.

CAMBRIDGE MA – Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has convened the inaugural meeting of The Council on the Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a new effort to address critical questions about this far-reaching and rapidly evolving application for data and technology.  

The Council gathered 30 leaders from groups including government, business, academia, and civil society to discuss how the latest technological developments in digital technology, including data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) are creating new opportunities but also new risks. The November meeting included representatives from diverse industries including finance and banking, insurance and technology, as well as participants from academia and the public sector, including federal, state, and city governments.

“One of the purposes of forming this Council” said Dan Schrag, Co-Director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, “is to bring together these diverse perspectives and work on difficult questions where contrasting opinions exist.  Reaching a consensus on the responsible use of these rapidly developing technologies requires broad and diverse views, not just from technology companies or from academics.”   

At the inaugural meeting, Council members focused on the increasing application of algorithms in business settings and their implications for bias and transparency. After some initial review of emerging technologies, the group employed a case study on the use of machine learning algorithms in the hiring process to explore the underlying potential for misuse. Participants acknowledged that the competitive advantages of using these technologies may be too strong to pass up. But at the same time, the rapid deployment of machine learning and AI may create new risks that can erode public confidence.

“An important lesson from these first discussions,” said Schrag, “was that the public call for transparency, in seeking to understand how machine-learning algorithms make decisions, may be misplaced.  The real issue is human accountability.”

“Transparency may be one way to provide accountability,” said Council member David Eaves, Executive Director of digitalHKS. “But there are circumstances where other ways may be more equitable or effective in assuring the public that people will be accountable for decisions aided by technology.”

"It's time to stop worrying about machines taking over the world, and instead focus on the pragmatic issues we face with AI:  How do we reskill people for the 'Human + Machine' age, and what mechanisms must we put in place to make sure that at the end of the day, we have human accountability for the systems that we are building," said Paul Daugherty, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Accenture.

Cathy Bessant, Bank of America Chief Operations and Technology Officer and a member of the Council, added, “No matter the industry, most are focused on gaining first-mover advantage, but all should understand how algorithms impact real people. The technical experts cannot separate themselves from the outcomes they’re creating. The stakes here are extremely high.”

The Council plans to focus on different strategies for ensuring human accountability at its next meeting this spring.  In addition, the Council will explore the question of job displacement, and whether investments in education and training can compensate.

The Council was created with an initial three-year gift from Bank of America. Faculty, researchers, and staff at Harvard Kennedy School establish the Council’s research agenda, and administer all other components jointly through the Belfer Center and the new umbrella program called digitalHKS. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Belfer Center Convenes Council on the Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence .” Press Release, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, January 22, 2019.