IT body proposes that AI pros get leashed and licensed to uphold ethics

Set up a register and strike them off for bad behavior

Creating a register of licensed AI professionals to uphold ethical standards and securing whistleblowing channels to call out bad management are two policies that could prevent a Post Office-style scandal.

So says industry body BCS – formerly the British Computer Society – which reckons licenses based on an independent framework of ethics would promote transparency among software engineers and their bosses.

"We have a register of doctors who can be struck off," said Rashik Parmar MBE, CEO at BCS. "AI professionals already have a big role in our life chances, so why shouldn't they be licensed and registered too?"

Chief execs and other managers in leadership roles, who are frequently not techies, are making key decisions about technology development, and these people must be "held accountable for using AI ethically," he added.

"If this isn't happening, the technologists need to have confidence in the whistleblowing channels available within organizations to call them out; for example, if they are asked to use AI in ways that discriminate against a minority group."

This could be bias in hiring decisions, or related to live facial recognition surveillance cameras that are being frequently deployed by police forces around the globe.

The importance of AI ethics was amplified by the Post Office scandal, says the BCS boss, "where computer generated evidence was used by non-IT specialists to prosecute sub postmasters with tragic results."

For anyone not aware of the outrageous wrongdoing committed by the Post Office, it bought the bug-ridden Horizon accounting system in 1999 from ICL, a company that was subsequently bought by Fujitsu. Hundreds of local Post Office branch managers were subsequently wrongfully convicted of fraud when Horizon was to blame.


The Post Office systems scandal demands a critical response


The sorry saga, counted as among Britain's greatest miscarriages of justice, destroyed the lives of the local branch managers, with many left bankrupt and some driven to suicide.

In a paper, "Living with AI and emerging technologies: Meeting ethical challenges with professional standard," the BCS's Ethics Specialist Group recommends:

  • Every technologist working in a high-stakes AI role should be a registered professional meeting independent standards of ethical practice, accountability, and competence.
  • Government, industry, and professional bodies should support and develop these standards together to build public confidence and create the expectation of good practice.
  • UK organizations should be required to publish their policies on ethical use of AI in any relevant systems – and those expectations should extend to leaders who are not technical specialists, including CEOs and governing boards.
  • The UK government should aim to support organizations to set world-leading ethical standards.

Georgina Halford-Hall, CEO at WhistleblowersUK and Chair of Strategy & Policy for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Whistleblowing, said in a statement: "AI and the rapid advances being made in the technology sector have left whistleblowers open to abuse, bullying, harassment and victimization. We fully support BCS as it looks to build a transparent culture around ethical practice which gives tech professionals the confidence to challenge when those standards are not met." ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like