The Ethics Committee, the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence (JSAI)
The Chair, Yutaka Matsuo
February 28th 2017

Since its establishment in 2014, the Ethics Committee of the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence (JSAI) has been exploring the relationship between artificial intelligence research/technology and society, and striving to effectively communicate it to the society. Discussions on artificial intelligence and society are carried out within various government agencies in Japan and abroad, and we believe that the Ethics Committee has a duty to lead a domestic discussion based on the JSAI members’ deep expertise in the field.

To this end, we summarized the discussions taking place within the Ethics Committee to create a draft Code of Ethics during the first half of 2016. The Ethics Committee held an open discussion at the Annual Meeting of the JSAI in June, where it received various comments. Soon thereafter, the draft became open to online feedback. We also received important commentaries from ethics specialists and the editorial committee of the JSAI. Based upon the feedback we had received, we then formulated an updated version of the JSAI’s Code of Ethics in December 2016. This version now constitutes the “Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence Ethical Guidelines,” which was approved by the Board of Directors of the JSAI in 2017.

“The Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence Ethical Guidelines” is available here.

The aim of the Ethical Guidelines is as follows.

The Ethics Committee’s mission is: to understand and reflect the various voices in society regarding the positive and negative impacts of artificial intelligence technology, to learn from the public in earnest, and to engage in a continuous dialogue with the public. The aim of these Ethical Guidelines is to first establish a preliminary policy that promotes a fruitful dialogue between the JSAI and the society. By expressing what is obvious, that the JSAI conducts research activities for the benefit of society, we hope that the society recognizes our work so that it forms the foundation of this anticipated dialogue with the public.

To achieve this goal, the Ethical Guidelines provides common practice professional ethical guidance to researchers. In the open discussion of the Annual Meeting of the JSAI last year, one of the panelists, Professor Shun Tutiya, said that: “the general public is concerned about what artificial intelligence researchers would do with the technology. Therefore, it is important to first make known that researchers are aiming to create a better society, and that they are not mad scientists. So, I would like to praise the JSAI for issuing such Ethical Guidelines.” This accurately described the intentions behind our work within the Ethics Committee.

Additionally, the Ethical Guidelines are not intended to come into practice immediately. For example, there is no pressing plan to proceed with the creation of a system to check whether a submitted manuscript aligns with the proposed Ethical Guidelines, or whether a specific artificial intelligence research conforms to these guidelines. By issuing the Ethical Guidelines, we hope to reach a consensus and promote deeper discussions of these ethical guidelines in the research and development of artificially intelligent technologies, with the general public and among the JSAI members. If the majority of the public and the JSAI members wish to see some sort of a practical process put in place, the Ethics Committee intends to further review and iterate these Ethical Guidelines through extensive dialogue.

What is unique about the JSAI’s Ethical Guidelines is Article 9, which reflects the characteristics of the JSAI. This emphasizes the reflexive nature of the Guidelines, meaning that they apply to artifacts made in accordance with these Guidelines, much like in the case of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. The Ethics Committee considers various possibilities with regards to how artificial intelligence will be employed in society in the future. However, in a society like Japan where cartoons such as Astro Boy and Doraemon have enabled artificial intelligence researchers to dream big, many can easily imagine artificial intelligence being recognized as integral “members” of society. As such, we believe that the tenet of the Ethical Guidelines – artificial intelligence for the benefit of society – would likely resonate with the public. In the EU, there are discussions on whether and how we should give robots a legal personhood. Article 9 therefore prompts various questions such as “What is the meaning of being a member of society?” “What does it mean for artificial intelligence to comply with the Ethical Guidelines?” We believe that such questions will lead to a deeper understanding of artificial intelligence technology as a whole, and to a deeper discussion on the ideal form of artificial intelligence in society. Article 9 is intended to create such a discussion.

Finally, we would like to reiterate that these Ethical Guidelines reflect the common sentiments of the JSAI community in its hope to deepen the dialogue between researchers and society, and to formulate a discussion that would lead to effective use of artificial intelligence technology in society. The Ethics Committee will continue its work with the hope that the Ethical Guidelines would open up the conversations among people from all walks of life.

In order to continue the dialogues with the JSAI members and the society as a whole, we welcome additional feedback on the Ethical Guidelines. This document will be discussed again in further details at the Ethics Committee Open Discussion Meeting in the May 2017 Annual JSAI Meeting.