In what it claims is a world first, Canada’s CIO Strategy Council has released a new set of standards to help organizations responsibly deploy emerging technologies with machine learning running under the hood.

The not-for-profit organization earned its accreditation to develop National Standards of Canada from the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) earlier this year. With the pace of innovation outpacing existing current regulations, the council decided to develop a set of standards – with the help of 100 experts and thought leaders – for one of the most popular and misunderstood technologies that businesses and governments across the world are desperately trying to adopt: artificial intelligence.

“Internationally we see principles around openness, principles of transparency. But how do you effectively achieve it? That has not been defined,” said Keith Jansa, executive director of the CIO Strategy Council. “This standard provides an international benchmark associated with the management process that should be in place within organizations that are developing and implementing these types of solutions.”

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The CIO Strategy Council is comprised of four executive leaders and 40 member organizations.

The standards focus specifically on the ethical design and use of automated decision systems, not simply artificial intelligence, a term that’s lost some meaning over the past year, indicated Jansa.

“We needed to be very, very specific and clear in the definitions we use that apply to the standard,” he said. “It was prudent for us to ensure that we got the definition right, that we’re not covering applications or solutions that are beyond what we’re describing.”

It was tricky developing a standard that provided ethical guidelines for chief innovation officers  without stifling the innovative spirit, said Jansa. Luckily, the council didn’t have to start from scratch. The standard borrows a lot from the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) own principles on AI, which were developed in May.

Jansa expects the standards to develop over time as it’s implemented in specific verticals such as healthcare, but he said it was crucial for some kind of foundational document to be in place sooner than later.

Compared to the rest of the world, Canada has taken a cautious approach in its pursuit of AI adoption. Twenty-five per cent of executives in Canada said they currently embed AI into their products and services. This is the lowest of all countries surveyed by Deloitte in the third quarter of 2018.

“The good news is that Canada can very much be a global lead when it comes to AI ethics,” noted Jansa.

In 2017, The Canadian government began working on its Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy in hopes of developing ideas around the economic, ethical, policy and legal implications of advancements in AI.

The national standard for automated decision systems is available, for free, in English and French, and can be found here.