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Sony sets out AI ethical guidelines

Electronics maker follows Google and Microsoft but new rules short on detail

Sony's AI guidelines cover issues such as handling customers' personal information and explaining the technology's decision-making mechanisms.

TOKYO -- Sony has established a set of ethical guidelines for handling artificial intelligence technologies, following the lead of Google and Microsoft.

"Sony has to show a clear standpoint on the technology," said Hiroaki Kitano, chief executive at Sony Computer Science Laboratories.

AI has become crucial to businesses in many industries, especially for the development of new products and services. But using the technology to process vast amounts of data, often including customers' personal information, raises a number of ethical concerns.

Google in June disclosed its guidelines on AI, which detail policies such as not pursuing "technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm," such as weapons.

In contrast, Sony's AI Ethics Guidelines do not refer to specific areas. But the company has long maintained a principle of not involving itself in arms development, Kitano said.

Sony's guidelines run for two pages in its latest Sustainability Report, which became available on the company's website in late September. The rules apply to all Sony executives and employees using AI technologies.

Key pillars of the guidelines include protecting customers' personal information, as well as providing sufficient explanation of the technology's decision-making mechanisms and the possible impact of AI-based products and services.

Any development that does not comply with the guidelines will not be allowed to proceed.

About 2,000 Sony employees use AI in some capacity. The company is keen to push commercial uses in several areas in addition to its core electronics business, such as entertainment and financial services.

Aibo, the company's robot dog, is one of several products that feature AI. The technology is also employed on production lines and in other manufacturing processes, such as quality control at chipmaking factories.

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