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To develop the AI Ethics Framework, we consulted with stakeholders across Australia.

How we consulted with the public

The Minister released a discussion paper on 5 April 2019 to encourage conversations about AI ethics in Australia. This paper included a set of draft AI ethics principles.

During this consultation phase, our department:

  • received more than 130 written submissions
  • conducted stakeholder roundtables and targeted consultation in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra
  • collaborated with a group of AI experts, to develop the revised set of AI ethics principles

We consulted 272 stakeholder organisations and individuals. This includes 53 in the government sector (44 federal and 9 state and territory); 96 in the private sector (83 large firms and 19 small to medium enterprises); 104 in civil society (39 academics, 17 research organisations, 18 industry associations, 15 community organisations and 15 peak bodies); and 19 individual members of the public).

Read the AI ethics discussion paper and published submissions on our Consultation hub.

What we heard from consultations

General insights

Stakeholders said:

  • They generally support a principles based framework to guide design, development, deployment and operation of AI in Australia.
  • The draft principles need to be more clearly defined to clarify how they would be applied, and how they interact with each other – see below for detailed feedback on each principle.
  • The framework needs to be iterative and flexible to ensure it adapts to technology change.
  • ‘Security’ is missing as a principle – including software, data and system security, cyber security, and physical and social security.
  • The principles need pragmatic guidance on how to apply them – AI applications are very context specific, which makes it difficult to apply one set of principles to all scenarios.
  • The framework may need to be supplemented with regulations, depending on the risks for different AI applications. New regulations should only be implemented if there are clear regulatory gaps and a failure of the market to address those gaps.
  • Government needs to engage with the community sector and general public on how AI is developed and used.
  • Diversity is an important part of ethical AI – including diversity in those working on AI, ensuring training data sets are inclusive and representative, and consultation with diverse stakeholders.
  • Human oversight is an important feature of ethical AI to ensure risks relating to diversity and inclusion are managed effectively. This includes the ability to monitor AI decisions and over-ride those decisions, if needed.
  • Australia’s framework should align with other international frameworks, where appropriate. AI is not geographically constrained and businesses operate in an international market.

Feedback on draft principles

Draft Principle 1 – Generates net-benefits

Stakeholders said this principle:

  • Is likely to be impractical, as calculating net-benefit is open to interpretation without a clear definition.
  • Assumes a level of ‘acceptable’ harm, conflicting with Draft Principle 2: Do no harm.

Draft Principle 2 – Do no harm

Stakeholders said this principle:

  • Needs improved clarity on the definition, threshold and scope of ‘harm’.
  • Contradicts Draft Principle 1 in intent – these two principles should be combined into a single revised principle to promote wellbeing and reduce harm.

Draft Principle 3 – Regulatory and legal compliance

Stakeholders said this principle:

  • May be redundant, as it should be a condition that is considered before ethics.
  • Should be refocused to address issues like human rights, democratic values, diversity and rule of law.

Draft Principle 4 – Privacy protection

Stakeholders said this principle:

  • Needs to have consistent terminology and be aligned with legal definitions.
  • Needs improved clarity on how it interacts with current statutes and common law principles.
  • Does not adequately capture the scope of the potential impact – it should also consider data governance and broader information privacy related issues.

Draft Principle 5 – Fairness

Stakeholders said this principle:

  • Needs improved clarity on the definition of ‘fairness’.
  • Needs more emphasis on ensuring minority groups are not unintentionally discriminated against.
  • Should include the concepts of inclusion and accessibility.
  • Should not just be limited to algorithms and training data – fairness needs to be considered over the full lifecycle of an AI system.

Draft Principle 6 – Transparency & Explainability

Stakeholders said this principle:

  • May be challenging to apply in practice, due to the complexity of explaining AI systems and decisions in a way that is easy to understand.
  • Should ensure that that people are provided with a reasonable justification of the outcome from the AI system in a user friendly format.
  • Should ensure that requirements for explainability are applied in a way that is proportional to the potential impact and risks of a given AI system.

Draft Principle 7 – Contestability

Stakeholders said this principle:

  • Needs improved clarity on ‘impact’ and its threshold.
  • Needs further guidance on how the principle would be applied – including clarity on the process for contesting decisions.
  • Needs to clearly communicate that redress for harm is possible when things go wrong, as this is vital to building public trust in AI.

Draft Principle 8 – Accountability

Stakeholders said this principle:

  • Needs improved clarity on who would be considered accountable – particularly in relation to open source algorithms and using AI systems beyond their original intent.
  • May stifle innovation by holding developers accountable, particularly for unintended consequences.
  • Should focus on accountability for the outcomes of AI systems, and ensuring appropriate levels of human oversight.