Cambridge University launches master’s degree in AI ethics

The University of Cambridge will offer a master’s degree course focused on the responsible use of artificial intelligence, which it says will be the UK’s first.

 The course will be led by the university’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI), in partnership with the university’s Institute for Continuing Education.

It is designed for professionals and leaders, such as engineers developing machine-learning products, who want to ensure that their products do not cause societal harm.

“Everyone is familiar with the idea of AI rising up against us,” said Dr Stephen Cave, executive director of the CFI. “It’s been a staple of many celebrated films like Terminator in the 1980s, 2001: A Space Odyssey in the 1960s, and Westworld in the 1970s, and more recently in the popular TV adaptation.

“But there are lots of risks posed by AI that are much more immediately than a robot revolt. There have been several examples which have featured prominently in the news, showing how it can b e used in ways that exacerbate bias and injustice.

“It’s crucial that future leaders are trained to manage these risks so we can make the most of this amazing technology. This pioneering new course aims to do just that.”

Tools incorporating AI can replicate and aggravate biases in training data. For instance, Amazon’s experimental recruitment AI tool was scrapped after it was shown to discriminate against female candidates, and MIT researchers have demonstrated that commercial facial recognition tools perform particularly poorly when analysing the faces of women and people with darker skin. Human bias can also influence the design of AI tools, and how they are deployed.

AI tools can also be used for intrusive surveillance and other applications which may violate civil liberties, such as in predictive policing.

“People are using AI in different ways across every industry, and they are asking themselves “How can we do this in a way that broadly benefits society?”” said Cave. “We have brought together cutting-edge knowledge on the responsible and beneficial use of AI, and want to impart that to the developers, policymakers, businesspeople, and others who are making decisions right now about how to use these technologies.”

The AI in ethics and society master’s degree will span a range of academic areas, including philosophy, machine learning, policy, race theory, design, computer science, engineering, and law. It will be delivered on a part-time basis over two years.

Applications for the course will open this month, with the first cohort beginning their studies in October 2021.

Last year, US billionaire Stephen Schwarzman gifted £150m to Oxford University to help establish a centre dedicated to ethics in AI, which will explore the ethical implications of AI in the workplace and in wider society.