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Addressing Ethical Concerns

Establishing clear policies and guidelines is the most effective method of communicating responsible AI deployment to the workforce, according to research from Deloitte.

By Maggie Mancini

It’s no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to change the way people work. Organizations have increasingly pushed to invest in the advanced technology, hoping to improve their workforce capabilities, free up time for strategic tasks, and boost employee productivity. At the same time, business leaders are grappling with how to establish and communicate the expectations and ethical implications of leveraging AI in the workplace.  

This challenge comes as 84% of C-suite executives have already implemented AI tools within their organization, according to a recent study from Deloitte. An additional 12% of business leaders plan to explore AI use cases over the next year. For business leaders, establishing clear guidelines governing the ethical use of AI are among the most effective methods of educating the workforce and preparing for the future of work, with 86% of respondents either implementing policies or planning to do so.  

“According to the survey, publishing clear policies and guidelines ranked as the most effective way to communicate AI ethics,” says Beena Ammanath, U.S. technology trust ethics leader at Deloitte. “Establishing an AI ethics framework should be a principal part of integrating AI ethics into an organization, as this provides a clear road map for the use of the technology.”  

Deloitte’s own AI framework, Ammanath says, outlines seven dimensions through which leaders can evaluate AI behavior, manage potential risks associated with its deployment, and ensure its trustworthiness. These seven dimensions include: 

  • transparency and explainability; 
  • fairness and impartiality; 
  • robustness and reliability; 
  • safety and security; 
  • responsibility; 
  • accountability; and 
  • respect for privacy. 

“The growing trust gap around AI has sparked conversations at the executive level about not only the need to establish ethical principles, but also how to effectively communicate them,” Ammanath says. “Representation and involvement from executive leaders play a key part in this. We observed from our survey that conversations around AI ethics are happening among leaders at the board level, which would help ensure consistent, organization-wide policies and actions.” 

According to the study, over half of respondents said boards of directors (52%) and chief ethics officers (52%) are always involved in creating policies and guidelines for the ethical use of AI. Beyond senior leadership, Ammanath says, it’s also important for organizations to ensure they have the right human capital resources to build an effective framework.  

Ammanath explains that part of establishing this trust involves bringing in the entire organization and engaging the workforce. For example, policies should be clearly communicated, and all employees should be given the necessary knowledge and tools to leverage AI safely and responsibly. Ammanath adds that “it is clear leaders see introducing AI ethics as an organization-wide effort, one that involves preparing, educating, and empowering employees at all levels” to use AI responsibly.  

As more companies implement AI tools in the workplace, nearly nine in 10 (88%) are taking measures to communicate AI ethics to their workforces, the report finds.  

Organizations are most commonly doing this by providing workshops and training (56%); utilizing internal AI specialists to host webinars (55%); providing ways for employees to report ethical concerns (50%); delivering internal communications (45%); publishing guidelines and policies (44%); and bringing in external specialists (33%). Still, 12% of organizations are not providing any communication on the ethical use of AI, according to the report.  

The survey also finds that nearly 45% of enterprises are training and upskilling their workforces, while 44% are hiring for AI skills. Ammanath says that upskilling is a critical part of preparing the workforce for AI. 

“This means workforce development initiatives should be crafted to work in alignment with the organization’s ethics framework, and leaders should integrate guidelines on responsible use as a core part of AI curriculum,” she says, adding that upskilling for AI can look different for workers with different experiences. As a result, leaders should have a deep understanding of employees’ current capabilities and skills so they can see how those skills could be enhanced with AI.  

Ammanath says that Deloitte’s research has resulted in leaders taking a proactive approach to prepare their workforce for AI, particularly when it comes to working to improve their understanding of the technology and fill in the knowledge gaps among their leadership or board. And while a lot of the decision-making around AI ethics is happening at the executive or board level, it’s vital for these decisions to involve specialists across various disciplines.  

For example, organizations are hiring for roles like AI ethics researcher and compliance specialist more than they are hiring for C-level positions like chief ethics officer, which Ammanath says indicates that “leaders see the value of augmenting their leadership strategy with relevant AI expertise.”  

“It’s also critical for leaders to consider the pace with which they are adopting and leveraging AI tools for use internally and externally,” Ammanath says. “Despite the rush to adopt AI, our research shows C-suite leaders are prioritizing creating and communicating AI ethics policies ahead of activating on new AI pilot projects. Before acting on AI projects, organizations should have the guardrails in place to protect the privacy, safety, and equitable treatment of its users, and to make sure use of AI is aligned with their values and expectations.”  

Ammanath says that investing in AI ethics is paramount from a leadership perspective. The survey finds that C-level executives tie AI ethics to important business tenants including revenue growth, reputation, and trust. Over half of the executives surveyed (55%) believe that ethical guidelines for emerging technologies like generative AI are crucial for revenue growth.  

“The business imperative driving investment in ethics can help steer AI adoption in the workforce in a positive direction,” says Ammanath. “The widespread emphasis on the value of establishing and enforcing ethical principles means workforces will be able to harness AI safely and effectively, leveraging the technology to drive positive outcomes.”

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