How do the values of privacy, agency, and trust differ across different cultural contexts? And how should they feature in the governance of AI? What do the ethics of AI look like when we approach it not only from a Euro-American point of view, but from a broader perspective that gives equal importance to ideas and values from other parts of the world, including those from Japan? How can these multiple and differing understandings of ethics provide the basis for a global but interculturally sensitive governance framework for responsible AI?

These are some of the complex questions we are grappling with through the PATH-AI project, a collaboration between The Alan Turing Institute (Dr David Leslie, Dr James Wright, Dr Florian Ostmann, and Morgan Briggs), the University of Edinburgh (Prof Charles Raab and Dr Fumi Kitagawa), and Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution, RIKEN (Dr Hiroshi Nakagawa, Prof Takehiro Ohya, Prof Satoshi Narihara, and Prof Osamu Sakura). The project is supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), and is due to run until the end of 2022.

People on a subway trainOur goal is to expand current AI ethics and governance discussions to include human- and culture-centred international views. To achieve this, the project will study the key concepts of privacy, agency, and trust from a comparative and intercultural perspective with a focus on Japan and the UK. We will use an international team of experienced, multidisciplinary, and multilingual researchers to build a first-of-its-kind interculturally co-designed framework for more ethical and equitable human-AI ecosystems.

In the project’s first phase, we are undertaking a literature review as well as interview-based research on the social (cultural, normative, ethnographic) and institutional (legal, economic, political) dimensions of privacy, agency, and trust, to understand UK- and Japan-specific views on these values. We’re also aiming to build an intercultural bridge for communication between British and Japanese citizens by commissioning artworks in both countries inspired by our comparative analysis, to be exhibited online (and, we hope, physically). Through these artworks, we hope to encourage experiential learning and dialogue about the multiple, intercultural approaches to AI ethics.

Additionally, in response to the immediate societal challenges raised by the use of data-intensive digital technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been examining how the complex interplay of privacy, agency, and trust has impacted the public health responses in Japan and the UK. So far, we have observed the paramount importance of the part that trust in government, trust in fellow citizens, and trust in science and technology have played in enabling us to effectively tackle the various problems posed by the pandemic. At the same time, however, the way these kinds of trust – or lack thereof – have manifested (and the role they have assumed in the efficacy of public health responses) has differed considerably between the two countries. We believe that much can be learned by taking a culturally comparative approach to the human and technological responses to the crisis.

In the second phase of the project, we will engage with stakeholders through working groups to co-design a unique, culturally informed, and international governance framework for responsible AI innovation. This is where we aim to translate the bottom-up ethical values, norms, and commitments of individuals from both countries into concrete, practical, yet principles-based policy recommendations for future AI governance. We intend to achieve this by identifying both differences and touch points between UK and Japanese legal, policy, and ethical landscapes -with an eye to thinking inclusively and globally about AI ethics and governance. By involving policymakers throughout the development process, we hope that this co-designed framework will have a real, substantive impact on future AI governance policy in both countries.

Ultimately, through the PATH-AI project, we endeavour to lay the foundations for ongoing, long-term UK-Japan collaboration and international dialogue on regulating and governing AI for its equitable, ethical, and responsible development and deployment. As the introduction of AI systems continues to increasingly affect many aspects of people’s lives around the globe, it is more important than ever to expand current AI ethics discussions to embrace approaches that are based on human, and culture-centred, values from diverse sources across the world.

To find out more about PATH-AI, please visit our project website and subscribe to updates. You can also follow us on Twitter @PATHAIResearch.