'Unethical' tech leaders should be struck off like negligent doctors, industry body says

Businessman being fired in the office while other people continue working on the background.
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Tech experts and leaders should be held to account for unethical practices in the same way as doctors or solicitors, according to BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

In its new manifesto, BCS has called for practitioners in AI and other high-stakes technology roles to be publicly registered and held to account by the next government.

BCS said these standards should apply to anyone in senior IT roles, including leaders of companies operating in critical national infrastructure, such as health, defense, and other public services.

Alistair Revell, president of BCS, said regardless of the outcome of the upcoming general election, the government should enact new rules to ensure safe, responsible, and ethical technology development moving forward.

"Whoever comes to power this summer will preside over the rapid adoption of AI and the challenge of unlocking its benefits safely and ethically," he said..

“How do you know who the good people making decisions about this technology really are? They should be the ones prepared to subscribe to the public register after an assessment of their ethical values and technical competence; in the full knowledge that if they are found wanting, we will remove them."

In practice, the plans would mean senior tech leaders would need to be chartered in a similar fashion to accountants. BCS pointed out that it aims to set an example itself by revoking chartered status from any of its members found in breach of its code of conduct when the Horizon inquiry comes to an end later this year.

Under the plans, board level decisions on the deployment of tech, including AI, should be informed by IT professionals, and organizations should be required to publish safe, ethical, and inclusive policies on their use of the technology, BCS said.

Meanwhile, IT professionals should be encouraged to access safe whistleblowing channels to call out unethical practices, and an annual Statement of Ethical IT, similar to current declarations under the Modern Slavery Act, should be supplied for transparency.

"Sanctions with teeth make it meaningful to be an AI professional and build public trust in tech as a force for good," Revell said.

"The Post Office inquiry and related cases are a powerful example of this. If, when these investigations conclude, any member is found wanting under our Code of Conduct then BCS will take immediate disciplinary action."

The manifesto also called for every UK child and adult to have access to world class computing and digital education, with the creation of an applied computer science GCSE option.

The BCS manifesto also highlighted concerns around diversity within IT, noting that a concerted effort should be made to improve diversity in the industry to address issues around trust, bias, and safety.

Currently, it said, around half a million women are missing from the profession while people over 50 and those with disabilities are also underrepresented.

"If politicians act on these priorities, the UK will harness the power of emerging technologies like AI and quantum computing, safely, sustainably and responsibly, opening up opportunities for every part of the UK," BCS said.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.