Researchers from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) have argued for the establishment of international ethical standards in artificial intelligence (AI) to give people “more confidence” in technology.

Representatives from the European Union-funded SHERPA project, led by DMU, have advised Members of European Parliament (MEPs) in Brussels that a set of universally recognised guidelines would help ensure more responsible development of AI and emerging technologies.

Laurence Brooks, Professor of Technology and Social Responsibility at DMU and member of SHERPA, said the issue of ethical considerations in AI development were not going away as systems become more advanced and common in everyday life.

“In the same way there is an internationally recognised standard for the quality of new technologies when they are being produced, we want to see an internationally recognised standard for the ethical development of technologies,” he said.

“We want developers to be taking ethics into consideration from the very early design stages, so that the end user has more confidence in the technology they are using.”

The SHERPA project, which received €2.8m of funding from the EU, has been established to enhance the responsible development of AI and examine the impact of smart information systems – including the likes of Amazon’s Alexa home assistant, Google’s search engine and AI algorithms used on social media platforms – on ethics and human rights.

Professor Brooks was invited to share SHERPA’s latest work at the annual ‘ThinkDigital’ event in Brussels, which brings together businesses, policymakers, and academia to debate the key issues facing the digital world in Europe and beyond.

“This next stage is about working with European policymakers, hearing what they think is important and advising them on the areas we think they need to focus on when it comes to developing standards for ethical best practice,” said Professor Brooks.

“The turnaround of new technology is so quick that we need to be thinking about this in the early development stages.”

Following their discussions with MEPs, SHERPA researchers are now asking members of the public to provide feedback on how important they deem ethical issues to be in relation to different scenarios that involve using AI and smart intelligent systems – from privacy and use of personal data to sustainability and the environment.