An initiative for a better understanding and framing of the ethical, legal and societal implications of AI by leveraging a transdisciplinary approach.
On January 28, 2020, the University of Ottawa and Scotiabank announced a generous gift to create the Scotiabank Fund for the AI + Society Initiative at the University of Ottawa that will support the development of a Canadian AI + Society Initiative, leading to a better understanding and framing of the ethical, legal and societal implications of AI research and its uses.The Scotiabank Fund also supports two research programs on AI + Inclusion, and AI + Regulation. In Spring 2020, the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue funded a new research program on AI for Healthy Humans and Environments.
The AI + Society Initiative is led by Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau, Associate Professor and Director of the University of Ottawa Centre for Law, Technology and Society.
The rapid pace of AI development adds to the challenges facing modern societies, their citizens and raises multiple ethical, legal, and policy issues. This requires a better understanding of the societal implications of AI.
The AI + Society Initiative aims at defining problems and identifying solutions to essential issues related to ethical AI and technology development. The research leverages a transdisciplinary approach to advance AI methods and tools, with a focus on their responsible applications.
The Initiative promotes an inclusive research agenda with a specific focus on avoiding the amplification of global digital injustices through AI for affected communities. The research will include many important voices such as women, youth, seniors, Indigenous People, LGBTQIA+, visible minorities, people with disabilities, and linguistic minorities (such as French and Indigenous Languages) – and those at the intersection of these identities.
The Initiative offers students new opportunities to gain experience, locally and abroad, in an emerging field that will have profound implications on Canadian society in the years to come. The Initiative’s outreach includes lectures, conferences and workshops, training, tools, frameworks, and white papers that will help develop global thought-leadership on AI and society. While being grounded in rigorous evidence-based academic research, most outreach (public lectures, training, tools, white papers, reports) will be developed with the general public in mind, so non-academic stakeholders can take ownership, and implement them, to have a transformative impact within their communities.
The Scotiabank Fund for the AI and Society Initiative supports an initial research agenda organized under two streams:
AI + Inclusion
Designing Ethical and Inclusive AI Systems
The AI + Inclusion stream will promote a research agenda around developing effective inclusive and participatory ethical design/engineering frameworks for AI systems, notably with respect to avoiding the disturbing risk of amplifying global digital injustices through AI for women, youth, seniors, Indigenous People, LGBTQIA+, racialized people, people with disabilities, and linguistic minorities (such as French and Indigenous Languages)—and those at the intersection of these identities. The research will also consider specific concerns regarding people in the North and remote communities, and developing nations.
While promising important benefits, unchecked AI development introduces significant challenges, from creating uncertainty surrounding the future of work, to shifts in power to new structures outside the control of existing and understood governance and accountability frameworks. What is particularly problematic is how these challenges can have a disproportionate impact on marginalized populations, amplifying existing injustices.
This research will pioneer best practices while proposing tools and frameworks for ethical engineering of AI systems. For example, we will investigate how to develop effective ethical requirements for AI, implement those requirements and, critically, verify that they have been effectively implemented.
AI + Regulation
Shaping Global AI Regulation
Emerging artificial intelligence tools are constantly complicating previously straightforward areas of domestic and international policy. The AI + Regulation stream will focus on the regulation of AI and automation around the world to inform Canadian policymakers and actors. For example, copyright and privacy laws are also important to ensure more inclusive, less biased AI systems. You need to be able to access more information, more data to be able to better know society and include more diverse voices, opinions and realities.
This research will be led in collaboration with our global research network. Indeed, the ubiquity of the global and digital economy calls for comparative studies to design adequate frameworks. While most of our regulations are made at the national level, reflecting local values, there is bound to be conflict where different states approach their policies and regulatory frameworks with competing interests and societal values in mind. Yet, those states may not share the same core sets of societal values.
This research stream will aim at developing tools and frameworks to tackle these issues. Our global initiative will promote collaborative work to share best practices across jurisdictions while rendering current legislative AI tools more accessible.
The Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue’s Project on AI for Healthy Humans and Environments is organized under two streams:
AI and the Future of Healthcare
Advancements underway in AI and machine learning (ML) have been portended to transform our world on the scale of past Industrial Revolutions. AI will not only assist, and become an integral part of the medical decision-making team, but potentially substitute for human caregivers, medical service providers, diagnosticians and expert decision-makers. Current legal and regulatory regimes—protecting patient safety, privacy and other values—were developed for an era of medicine that will be eclipsed. For AI health technologies to deliver optimal and equitable health care benefit to all Canadians, we should proactively identify and address how to ensure our regulatory governance is equal to the benefits and challenges emerging with new technologies. We will survey the salient legal issues that emerge as we consider the appropriate adoption of AI and ML into health care systems.
The research will focus on regulation of medical devices to ensure the safety and quality of AI as it is implemented within our health-care system. Our goal will be to support Canadian regulators to enable the rapid infusion of beneficial AI and ML into the health care systems that empower patients and their health care providers whilst ensuring appropriate regulation for quality, safety and privacy.
AI and the Future of Environment
Food production is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. through methane production at large cattle feedlots) and also to soil and biodiversity degradation. AI promises to revolutionize agriculture and drastically reduce its environmental loading by allowing for the precise use of resources through big data-driven advice generated by machine learning (ML). However, this sustainability promise of AI remains largely untested. Furthermore, preliminary studies suggest that while AI may help solve environmental problems, it may raise social issues such as exaggerating power inequity in the food system. For instance, robotics technologies are being applied to horticulture, displacing already vulnerable temporary foreign agricultural labourers. The proposed project aims to shed light on both the environmental and social impacts of big data and AI in food production, with a focus on what policy-makers could do to enable the sustainability gains presented by emerging digitization while fairly distributing its risks.
The project furthers Canada’s leadership on inclusive innovation, climate adaptation and mitigation through two interrelated research activities: testing the sustainable potential of AI applied to food and inquiring into the social impacts of big data and AI especially among historically marginalized food system actors.
The Initiative has adopted a very agile development and leadership framework to respond to society’s latest challenges. In the near future, the team is expected to welcome new members and continue to expand its research agenda.
The AI + Society Initiative aims at participating in the global conversation and building capacity for a global thought leadership in Canada.
We will leverage a wide collaborative network, notably in the United States, the European Union, Israel, India, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Africa. Building on existing collaborations, the Initiative will spearhead the development of joint activities, notably inviting leading experts from these regions to bring new perspectives within North American discourses around AI, and by supporting the training of Canadian students and researchers within those countries.
the University of Ottawa Centre for Law, Technology and Society
The initiative builds on 20 years of award-winning research at the University of Ottawa Centre for Law, Technology and Society (CLTS), Canada’s leading research hub for law, ethics and policy surrounding technology, gathering, in an interdisciplinary setting, researchers from the Faculties of Law, Social Sciences, Arts, and Engineering includes more than 100 researchers and students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Founded in 2009, CLTS is globally recognized as a premier research group in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, cybersecurity, intellectual property, privacy and health technologies.
Beyond CLTS, the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue’s Project on AI for Healthy Humans and Environment builds on the expertise of the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, the Institute for Science, Society and Policy, and a network of leading experts from the Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability, the LIFE Institute, the Centre for Governance, and the Centre for Public Law.
Florian Martin-Bariteau, Director
Muriam Fancy, Research Coordinator