Advisory statement on human ethics in artificial intelligence and big data research (2017)

1. Preamble

Consistent with the NRC Policy on Research Involving Human Participants (the NRC Policy), the NRC affirms that excellence in ethics and respect for human dignity are essential to excellence in research.

NRC is therefore committed to supporting research involving human participants only when it has approval of the NRC Research Ethics Board (NRC-REB) or as otherwise prescribed in Standard operating procedures (SOP) approved by the NRC Secretary General under the policy.

The NRC-REB recognizes that the administration of these requirements will be challenging and increasingly so in the face of scientific and engineering research that is:

  • Multi-disciplinary and rapidly evolving,
  • Empowered by extremely large data sets, and
  • Defined by advanced computer systems and technologies

often labelled as deep learning or artificial intelligence.

2. Principles

Within this context, the NRC-REB reaffirms its commitment to meeting obligations under the NRC Policy and to upholding the following basic principles in the review of research driven by big data and artificial intelligence applications. To this end, prior to approving support for such research involving humans, the NRC-REB advises that research plans should:

  1. Protect Privacy and Personal Information
    • Take special measures in the design and planning of research to protect the privacy of individuals and personal information about themselves as required by the NRC Policy and its model, The Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS or the Policy);
    • Recognize the right of individuals to access their personal information held by NRC;
  2. Ensure Discrete and Authentic Consent
    • Involve human participants and/or data that is personally identifiable with them only through free and informed consent (consent may be waived if all the conditions in TCPS 2 Article 5.5A are met);
    • Secure participant consent or consent for the use of personal information in a way that is clearly given and separate from the acceptance of any form of inducement, deprivation, or the exercise of control, or authority as cited in terms and conditions for the purchase of a product or service;
    • Research that relies exclusively on the secondary use of non-identifiable information does not require participant consent but does require approval from the NRC-REB.
  3. Preserve Human and Legal Rights
    • Ensure that the consent to use personal data or otherwise participate in research is not conditional upon and does not include any statement to the effect that, by consenting, participants waive basic human rights or any rights to legal recourse in the event of research-related harm;
    • Respect the rights of involved communities as a whole when, for example, data and information studied has implications for a specific community such as an Indigenous People;
    • Take particular measures to protect the rights of children and other vulnerable individuals.