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Public supports idea of IT industry regulator


Mark Say Managing Editor

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A public poll carried out for BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT has come out in favour of an ethics regulator for the IT industry.

A survey of 2,063 adults run by YouGov found that 59% believe that the profession should be kept focused on solving society’s problems by an independent regulatory body.

In contrast, only 23% felt that ‘big tech’ companies should have the task of enforcing the industry’s ethical standards, while 22% said politicians should have the job.

The results come after a summer of high profile public sector projects where IT and its implementation by policy makers have been criticised, including the use of algorithms to estimate exam results and errors in the use of Excel to track Covid-19.

Limits on trust

Only 50% of respondents felt they could trust computer scientists to create artificial intelligence that is focused on improving the quality of their life, and 63% did not think new computer science graduates were suitably qualified to write software that makes life decisions about them. Also, 62% said computer programmers should be qualified as chartered professionals, meeting the same standards as chartered accountants.

Andy Phippen, a fellow of BCS and professor of IT ethics and digital rights at Bournemouth University said: “There are plenty of people within academia who would view ethical parts of the curriculum as a distraction from 'proper' courses that consider technical facets of computer science. One test I have often done with computer science students is 'Would you get onto an aeroplane you’d written the software for?' Most will say no.

“Given the greater prevalence of algorithms and increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence being used in government and private sector systems to decide things about our lives, it is essential that anyone studying computer science also receives a good grounding in ethics and social responsibility.

“While we have patches of IT regulation, including the ICO, for data, and Ofcom’s role in social media harms due to be made law soon, I’m not sure we’ve yet got the right oversight across all the aspects of IT.

“Many people who have not studied computer science are involved in the design, delivery, implementation, running and assurance of computer systems.  They should all be appropriately qualified and independently accredited.”

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