Berenice Boutin receives KNAW funding

Published 29 May 2020

Project leader Dr Berenice Boutin has been awarded funding by the KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) within its Early Career Partnership programme. The award of €10.000 will be used to organise a conference on Law and Ethics of Artificial Intelligence in the Public Sector: from Principles to Practice and Policy.

The conference will address the multiple challenges raised by the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the public sector. As AI is progressively deployed in various domains such as healthcare, energy, welfare, border security, criminal justice, law enforcement, or defence, it is essential to ensure that the development and use of AI technologies are guided by core values, in particular the rule of law and human rights.

In recent years, the sharp progresses of AI capabilities have been accompanied by a growing recognition of the need to proactively reflect on its societal implications, so as to shape the development and applications of technology in line with ethical and legal principles. Public and private institutions alike have called for a fundamental questioning on the potential impacts of AI, in order to steer AI research and policy towards beneficial outcomes, and to ultimately maintain agency over the technologies we decide to adopt.

Unfettered deployment of AI has already led to unintended consequences notably in terms of discrimination, privacy, due process, transparency, and accountability. Current debates on the use of facial recognition in public spaces (for which the European Union is considering a temporary ban), risk-assessment algorithms in the judicial system (which have led to blatant discrimination in the United States), or automated detection of welfare fraud (which is being litigated in the Netherlands in the SyRI case), demonstrate that the implementation of AI in the public sector is a highly topical and important issue. The potentially promising and seemingly less controversial applications of AI for instance to improve healthcare or energy management should as well be the subject of close reflection and scrutiny, as they are not exempt from risks and challenges.

The conference will convene an interdisciplinary dialogue aimed at generating insights on the principles, conditions, and methods that would allow to responsibly deploy AI in the public sphere. In order to contribute solutions to the pressing challenges of AI, the ethical, legal, technical, and policy aspects must be addressed together. Indeed, both the bedrock of ethical values such as human dignity and agency, and fundamental legal norms in particular human rights, need to be translated and assimilated into the design and engineering of AI systems. The conference will therefore aim to build necessary bridges between ethics, law, and engineering, and thereby to operationalise principles into practice and policy.

The conference will bring together academic researchers from the three main relevant identified disciplines and stimulate critical reflections on a conceptual and methodological framework that derives from and feeds into actual practices of AI in the public sector. It will identify fundamental principles emerging from both law and ethics, and ponder them against engineering methods of systems design and optimisation.