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Need for ethical approach with AI

Story by
Detlef Eckert

Detlef Eckert

Vice-President, Global Policy Affairs, Huawei

The European Commission’s decision to launch a pilot phase to develop ethical guidelines for Artificial Intelligence and ensure they can work in practice is a welcome step in building trust in new technologies.

After decades of research and development, we have finally reached a new age of AI technology. The potential for doing good using AI is huge and should not be missed, as many success stories and applications are proving. 

‘AI for Good’ is Huawei’s motto and our researchers are now busy exploring all sorts of areas where AI can be used to be of great benefit to society. Fields such as natural language processing, pattern and image recognition, data mining, machine learning, smart interfaces and intelligent information processing. 

At present, as information technology develops at high speed, the application of AI on smartphones can already be considered a milestone. In just two to three years’ time, the AI ecosystem will have taken shape and practical AI applications will be everywhere.

Ethical considerations

The EU’s High-Level Expert Group of independent experts on the application of Artificial Intelligence to society has been working since June last year on what ethical approach should be taken with this new technology. On April 8, the Commission took forward the group’s work on ethical guidelines by launching a pilot phase to ensure such guidelines can be used and implemented in practice. It has invited industry, research institutes and public authorities to test the detailed assessment list drafted by the High-Level Expert Group – and Huawei will be taking part in this process.

As the Commission has pointed out, AI can benefit a wide-range of sectors, such as healthcare, energy, road safety, farming, climate change and financial risk management. It can also help detect fraud and cyber security threats and enable law enforcement authorities to fight crime more effectively. But AI also introduces new challenges for the future of work and raises legal and ethical questions. 

As well as being transparent, robust and safe, AI systems should respect data privacy and be held accountable for their outcomes. They should also be diverse, non-discriminatory and fair. And, perhaps most of all, they should be used to bring about positive social change and enhance other universally-held values like sustainability and ecological responsibility. 

Having said all this, though, it will be important not to over-regulate AI, since the technology in still in its early, innovative stages and this innovation needs to be encouraged to prosper if society is to receive the full benefits from AI over the decades to come. Europe needs to develop a positive mindset towards the potential AI offers.

Huawei’s AI for Good 

At Huawei, we are in tune with the current European and international debates on the ethical and legal questions surrounding AI. We are constantly looking to promote AI for Good initiatives to demonstrate the potential the technology has for improving our common future. These initiatives include:

-    Story Sign, a free app, developed with the ‘European Union for the Deaf’, powered by Huawei AI that reads selected children's books and translates them into sign language. We wanted to create an authentic reading experience and make it possible for families with deaf children to enjoy an enriched story time. Given there are approximately 32 million deaf children globally and many struggle to learn to read, often due to a lack of resources bridging sign language and reading, technology can help to open the world of books to many of them and their families.

-    Facing Emotions, an app we developed with the Polish Blind Association, that uses AI to allow the visually impaired to "see" the emotion on the face of someone they are talking to - by translating it into sound. We use the rear camera of the Mate 20 Pro phone, for instance, to read the emotion on the face of whoever the blind user is talking to, by analysing their expression using AI. An offline machine-learning algorithm integrated into the phone identifies the main facial features of the interlocutor, including eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth. It can then determine the positions in relation to one another and identify the emotion being expressed.

-    The Frequency of Love, developed with the support of the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Italy, enabling humans to become closer to the animal world - using Huawei’s unique AI technology. We trained our Kirin 980, processor to recognise the sounds of humpback whales and transform them into musical notes that can be listened to by a human audience through ‘The Frequency of Love’ app.

These are just three of the many apps we are developing to show how AI can be used for ethical purposes. Heart-warming initiatives such as these will go a long way to persuading the public that AI is not to be feared, rather to be cherished as one of the technologies of the future that can help us design a better world for generations to come.