IEEE-SSIT Tackles Standards Development

By on October 31st, 2017 in Ethics

A Guest Blog Post from: Victoria A. Hailey, CMC & Katherine Bennett, (standards development leaders in IEEE).

On 28 September 2017, the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT) was approved as a Standards Sponsor.

This initiative was spearheaded by forward-thinking, former and current SSIT Chairs, respectively, Greg Adamson and Paul Cunningham. A major catalyst to this effort was the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems (IEEE Global Initiative). This incubation space supports innovative new standards and solutions, certifications and codes of conduct, and consensus building for ethical implementation of intelligent technologies.

The proliferation of the new IEEE P7000 series of IEEE standards, arising from the IEEE Global Initiative, reflected the standards light onto SSIT as the natural home for new standards precipitated by this and similar initiatives focusing on ethics, sustainability, and social issues. The time was right for Greg and Paul, together with the tireless efforts of IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) and Technical Operations Program Managers, and the enthusiastic support of John Havens, Executive Director of the IEEE Global Initiative, to recruit a Chair, Vice-Chair, and Secretary who could create a development home for these standards, once it became clear SSIT should enter that world.

Their efforts were fruitful, with these members now serving as SSIT/SC Officers:

  • Sponsor Chair: Victoria (Vicky) Hailey, CMC
  • Vice-Chair:      Dr. Sara Mattingly-Jordan
  • Secretary:

SSIT Standards Committee (SSIT/SC) will enable SSIT to develop relevant, useful, and needed standards within our key areas of interest:

  • Sustainable Development
  • Ethics/Human Values
  • Universal Access
  • Societal Impacts
  • Protecting the Planet.

Because SSIT’s scope of interest in standardization concerns how technology impacts the world, as well as how the application of technology can improve the world, the Sponsor is anticipating cross-Society collaborations, with engagement from a cross-section of stakeholders from across IEEE, especially given that ethics, sustainability, and social implications exist in the context of a particular technology.

IEEE-SA is a leading consensus-building organization that nurtures, develops, and advances global technologies. IEEE-SA standards drive the functionality, capabilities, and interoperability of a wide range of products and services that transform the way people live, work, and communicate.

Ethical and regulatory challenges are prominent in what is still being referred to as “emerging” technology, even though it may have been around for many years and in many forms. Some examples include additive manufacturing methods, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and robotics. The difference now is that these technologies are entering a new paradigm in which we see convergence and incorporation of technologies into consumer electronics, goods, and services. This trend will continue to have rapid, quantum growth as technology continues to democratize society.

Autonomous systems, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotics continue to evolve, converge, expand, and forge new specializations and applications. The robotics of today increase in autonomy and reactive capacity. When we think about robots being on par with human intelligence, this prospect becomes both exciting and alarming.

In addition to “smart” machines, “smart” materials are being integrated into additive manufacturing. Smart materials may have the capacity to change, adapt, interact, and/or respond to an environment. 4-D Printing, for example, takes into account transformation over time and may have the ability to adapt, self-repair, or even disintegrate.

Autonomous vehicles and cars are in the spotlight now, with tractor trailers, ships, buses, and endless applications appearing on the horizon.  The AI that’s being employed has best intentions – law-abiding, reactive, etc. — but there are many situations, choices, and reactivities that exist and may already be exceeding the machine’s capability, to the detriment of health, safety, or other unintended consequences. These examples of innovation are welcomed for their benefits. However, life happens, sometimes with bad results, but that’s not an excuse anymore, especially with predictive and self-healing technologies.

SSIT will be developing standards for engineers to guide them into better awareness of the issues at stake, the potential for unintended consequences, and the need to design them out of their engineering processes, products, and services. Future SSIT/SC standards will be equipping engineers with the guidance to address the risks and opportunities that accompany technology and preempt any negative impacts on our world. Good governance that evaluates and balances outcomes against risk while deploying ethical considerations—such as sustainability, inequality, human dignity, safety, security and inclusiveness, in other words, considering a first do no harm approach—is another step in this direction.

Momentum is already building as SSIT/SC’s Sponsor has already received three Project Approval Requests (PARs) for review as new potential standards projects.  The Sponsor’s committee of experts will provide feedback and perspectives on these and related PARs to determine their suitability as potential standards projects, evaluating criteria such as specific relevance to the five pillars of interest, potential to increase due diligence around areas of transparency, accountability, and other “ilities”, and enabling an increase of human wellbeing for the products, services, and systems they encompass.

SSIT/SC is just one of many societies within the IEEE fold that address these standards challenges: Computer, Robotics and Automation, Reliability, Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Societies all develop standards. SSIT/SC joining with these forces can only continue to support IEEE’s mission:  IEEE’s core purpose is to foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. 

SSIT’s Sponsor committee is seeking a SSIT members to join our committee and participate in the evolution and development of standards within our scope of interest. If you have a passion for of standards development work, please apply for membership.  The Sponsor is seeking diversity amongst the members, both in terms of the mix of Societies represented as well through geographical representation. Previous standards development experience is an asset.  Prospective members are encouraged to become members of an IEEE society, but it’s not a prerequisite to participate.  If interested, please email your request for SSIT/SC membership to the Chair at iso@rogers.com.  Include in your request your reasons for joining, your resume, and the contribution you expect to make to SSIT/SC.


Victoria (Vicky) Hailey is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) working in software and systems engineering since her start in the industry with IBM.  A Canadian expert delegate to ISO/IEC standards development for almost 20 years, she served as International Convenor for the project ISO/IEC 90003,  Software engineering — Guidelines for the application of ISO 9001 to computer software and empirical trials team member of the SPICE Project (ISO/IEC 15504/3300x).  While still tied to technology as a committee member of ISO/IEC/JTC1/SC7 & 27 Software & Systems Engineering, & Information Security, respectively, more recently her focus is on technology issues surrounding ethics and social responsibility, as part of the work of TC309 Organizational governance;  PC311 Vulnerable consumers/Ethical labelling;  TC268 Sustainable development in communities;  TCx Ageing societies;  ISO/TMB/SR Social Responsibility, and others.  Vicky joined IEEE in 1985.
Kathryn Bennett has been with the IEEE Standards Association for nearly ten years, providing standards development program guidance and support to standards sponsors and working groups throughout the Engineering in Medicine and Biology, and Computer Societies, and now the Society for Social Implications of Technology.  Kathryn has been in the program management field for 20 years.