Athabasca University partners to launch Canada’s first AI ethics micro-credential

PowerED, an entrepreneurial unit within Athabasca University and Ethically Aligned AI, a social enterprise created to help companies develop responsible AI, have launched Canada’s first micro-credential in AI ethics.

Artificial Intelligence Ethics Micro-Credential is a four-course program that provides the base skills required to address the issues around ethical development of AI systems.

The courses

The four courses include an Introduction to AI Ethics, Data, Machine Learning Models, and Roboethics. The on-demand courses are each two weeks in length and take about 10 to 12 hours of work per week to complete. Since they are delivered asynchronously, professionals or organizations can sign up groups of employees and let them start learning immediately on their own schedule.

According to Jessica Scott, director of PowerED by Athabasca University, the main target audience for the course is small, medium or large organizations that do not necessarily have a background in artificial intelligence (AI).

Jessica Scott, director of PowerED

“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there that in order to work with AI you’ve got to have a computer science background or be a digital engineer…These [the courses] are for professionals who are looking to implement, perhaps new strategies, tools or new systems using AI,” she said.

For example, this course could appeal to an individual who oversees customer service at a large or midsize organization and is looking at implementing tools that involve using AI to support customers.

Biases in AI technology

In this day and age, AI technology is widely used in several sectors and is often an integral part of businesses strategies. Scott said that organizations could be using AI to make decisions on a person’s ability to qualify to access credit or buy a house.

These important decisions that are powered by AI could unintentionally be encoded with structural bias, she said.

“There’s a lot of research coming out around structural bias and artificial intelligence because how they’re coded is really based on the lens of who’s coding them.”

For example, a 2018 Reuters article revealed that an AI recruiting tool Amazon had been working on was biased against women.

The experimental hiring tool used AI to give job candidates scores ranging from one to five stars. However, Amazon soon realized its new system was not rating candidates for software developer jobs and other technical posts in a gender-neutral way.

That was due to the fact that the computer models were trained to assess applicants by observing patterns in resumes submitted to the company over a 10-year period. Most came from men, reflecting the male dominance across the tech sector, the Reuters article reported.

“The big issue with data is that a lot of data has historical bias in it. This data set was very skewed towards men, and so every time an application from a female applicant would enter the picture it would get scanned out by this AI system. So there’s that kind of thing going on across the board, where datasets are not historically representative of where we want to go in the future,” Katrina Ingram, chief executive officer of Ethically Aligned AI, said.

Katrina Ingram, CEO of Ethically Aligned AI

Importance of AI education

The courses are designed as micro learning modules to help learners get meaningful results they can apply to their workplace challenges instantly. Some of the courses also include an AI-based simulation, which guides learners through ethical dilemmas while also providing an opportunity to critically reflect on the experience of engaging with an AI system.

Athabasca University is making these online courses easy to access for learners. They are accessible via desktop computer, a laptop or a mobile phone so learners can complete the work from any location at any time.

Ingram said the aim of these courses is to help organizations make better choices when building and deploying technology.

“I want to educate those organizations so that when they’re selecting the technologies for their business, they also understand what to look for and what are some of the ethical concerns that they should be discussing before they make a decision.”

As metaverse-like technology expands, and companies start ramping up AI technology within their own businesses, teaching ethical practices in AI is more vital than ever. Scott said the demand for this technology will only continue to grow and morph in the next decade or so, so organizations need to be as informed and comfortable with the technology.

“We are not anti-AI. We are in support of AI. We believe AI has significant opportunities. What we’re saying is that there’s a need for organizations to understand that there are ethical implications around choosing systems for employing tools that use artificial intelligence,” Scott said.

The cost of the micro-credential is C$2,780, and those interested can register here.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Samira Balsara
Samira Balsara
Samira is a writer for IT World Canada. She is currently pursuing a journalism degree at Toronto Metropolitan University (formally known as Ryerson) and hopes to become a news anchor or write journalistic profiles. You can email her at sbalsara@itwc.ca

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