Misuse versus Missed use — the Urgent Need for Chief Data Stewards in the Age of AI

Article by Stefaan Verhulst and Richard Benjamins: “In the rapidly evolving landscape of artificial intelligence (AI), the need for and importance of Chief AI Officers (CAIO) are receiving increasing attention. One prominent example came in a recent memo on AI policy, issued by Shalanda Young, Director of the United States Office of Management and Budget. Among the most important — and prominently featured — recommendations were a call, “as required by Executive Order 14110,” for all government agencies to appoint a CAIO within 60 days of the release of the memo.

In many ways, this call is an important development; not even the EU AI Act is requiring this of public agencies. CAIOs have an important role to play in the search for a responsible use of AI for public services that would include guardrails and help protect the public good. Yet while acknowledging the need for CAIOs to safeguard a responsible use of AI, we argue that the duty of Administrations is not only to avoid negative impact, but also to create positive impact. In this sense, much work remains to be done in defining the CAIO role and considering their specific functions. In pursuit of these tasks, we further argue, policymakers and other stakeholders might benefit from looking at the role of another emerging profession in the digital ecology–that of Chief Data Stewards (CDS), which is focused on creating such positive impact for instance to help achieve the UN’s SDGs. Although the CDS position is itself somewhat in flux, we suggest that CDS can nonetheless provide a useful template for the functions and roles of CAIOs.

Image courtesy of Advertising Week

We start by explaining why CDS are relevant to the conversation over CAIOs; this is because data and data governance are foundational to AI governance. We then discuss some particular functions and competencies of CDS, showing how these can be equally applied to the governance of AI. Among the most important (if high-level) of these competencies is an ability to proactively identify opportunities in data sharing, and to balance the risks and opportunities of our data age. We conclude by exploring why this competency–an ethos of positive data responsibility that avoids overly-cautious risk aversion–is so important in the AI and data era…(More)”