Ethics of autonomous systems
Algorithms, sensors, big data, ubiquitous networking and technologies used in autonomous and intelligent systems across all industry sectors are ever more present. Implications and consequences for our personal lives and society as a whole are profound and could lead to a loss of trust in technology. For example, the perceived loss of control over our digital identity or data, algorithmic bias, AI eavesdropping, or human safety in AI interactions, are just some of the topics that will need to be addressed. Broad technology adoption will depend on whether or not such societal concerns can be eased.
Standards can play an important role in increasing trust in AI and help support public and private decision making.
In this context, the SMB has set up the Standards Evaluation Group (SEG) 10, Ethics in Autonomous and Artificial Intelligence Applications.
Among other things, the initial scope of this SEG will be to:
- identify ethical issues and societal concerns that are relevant to IEC technical activities and formulate recommendations to the SMB
- develop broadly applicable guidelines for IEC technical committees on ethical aspects related to autonomous and AI applications
- ensure consistency of work across IEC committees and foster cooperation beyond traditional borders, including with ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1)
The SEG will also coordinate work with the Open Community for Ethics in Autonomous and Intelligent Systems (OCEANIS) of which the IEC is a founding member.
See also article about Eliminating bias from algorithms in this issue.
Accelerating smart manufacturing
Intelligent collaborative manufacturing systems enable businesses to respond in real time, to meet changing demands and conditions in factories, supply networks, and customer needs. Standardization is of crucial importance, as more companies around the world adopt smart processes. Smart manufacturing requires an unprecedented integration of systems across domains, hierarchical boundaries and lifecycle phases.
In order to harmonize and advance smart manufacturing activities in the IEC, SMB has agreed to follow the recommendations of SEG 7 and decided to establish a systems committee (SyC) with the initial title Smart Manufacturing. Its scope is to coordinate and take note of on-going work in other IEC and ISO TC/SCs related to smart manufacturing. In this context a joint IEC/ISO smart manufacturing standards map is in development. The SyC will also provide advice and bring experts from other standards bodies and consortia to the table.
Ensuring coherency and broad use
Horizontal standards provide fundamental principles, concepts, terminology and other technical characteristics that are relevant across a number of technical committees. They are of crucial importance to ensure the coherence of the body of standardization documents and to avoid duplication of work or contradictory requirements. For this reason new work proposals (NPs) for horizontal standards have to be brought to the attention of all committees and advisory committees, as well as national committees and their development is strictly ruled by Guide 108.
Two ad hoc groups (AHG) were tasked with confirming and clarifying the role of horizontal standards. AHG 72 was given the task of investigating the existing list of horizontal publications and AHG 78 was founded to revise Guide 108. The aim was to simplify the approach and use of horizontal publications within IEC. The resulting draft Guide 108 focuses on a single consistent definition for horizontal publications, while maintaining sufficient flexibility for a variety of users. It clarifies the procedure for assignment of horizontal functions and describes the responsibilities of committees with a horizontal function.
The ISO/TMB has decided to explore what they call foundational standards, a concept that is largely identical to the horizontal publications used in the IEC. The IEC has been invited to send experts to participate in a joint task force on this topic.
Handling of proposals for new fields of activity
SMB noted that ISO/TMB has initiated web conferences when proposals for new fields of activity have been received. The objective is to socialize the proposal among the community and allow proposers to gather potential input from web conference participants to refine their submission. SMB decided to trial a similar process to allow proposers to present their proposals to SMB members, National Committees, as well as interested TC/SCs. This process was implemented for the first time in November 2018 for the Personal e-Transporters proposal from the Belgian NC. The feedback from participants to this web conference was highly positive.
Three new fields of technical activity
Proposal for a new TC on personal E-assisted transport systems (PETS)
One wheel and two wheel devices such as Segway’s or electric scooters are growing in popularity. They are no longer confined to private properties and often reach speeds of up to 25 km/h. With this accidents and other safety issues are also on the increase. However, standardization as well as test procedures are completely lacking.
Some of these transportation modes are now starting to be offered on a share-basis and public charging and storage stations will be needed. The proposal for this new TC was initiated by the Belgium NC on request of the Belgian Institute for road safety. The new TC will focus on terminology, reliability of speed controls for acceleration, breaking and steering, safety and reliability levels in line with maximum speeds, etc. The proposal was circulated and a web conference was held. Voting for the new TC is currently ongoing.
Proposal for a new project committee (PC): Low voltage auxiliary power systems for electric power plants and substations
Auxiliary power systems (APS) are critical for the secure and reliable operation of power generation, transmission and distribution. They are used to power auxiliary equipment such as coolers of converter valves, illumination devices, actuators or protective devices, for example. They also serve as emergency supply to isolate faults and guarantee quick recovery. However, faulty APS can disable the protection and control functions of main grid equipment, causing more time for the grid to recover and leading sometimes to considerable damages and losses due to escalating failures. Standardization of APS is urgently needed to achieve reliable and economical auxiliary power systems. The new PC will focus on terminology, systems design, installation, acceptance, commissioning, operation and maintenance, safety and reliability, etc.
The Chinese NC, which is the originator of the proposal, will make use of the new web conference approach to present the proposal to all NCs prior to circulation for formal voting. By setting up a PC, the SMB will be able to determine in 2 years’ time whether further work might be needed.
Proposal for a new PC on binary generation systems
Binary energy generation systems are very economical and capable of producing electricity efficiently from low heat sources such as hot springs or factory waste water. The world demand for binary generation systems is increasing and expected to grow exponentially. Standardization is urgently needed.
The Japanese NC is responsible for the proposal, which is currently being circulated for formal approval.
Masterplan implementation plan
The SMB is directly responsible for 13 Masterplan implementation goals. To organize related work, it has put in place AHG 78 already back in 2017. Topics are structured around perceived impact and activity categories (see also graph), for example efficiency and effectiveness improvements, which have been the focus of the SMB already for quite some time.
Additionally, the SMB is concentrating on transformational actions such as digital transformation to increase strength and speed of the IEC and prepare the Commission for future challenges. “To remain relevant, the IEC must be flexible, understand customer needs and how they use IEC work. In this context we must increase customer “intimacy” and think about ways in which we can start co-generation projects with users”, says Sporer.