Canada Setting Guidelines to Tackle AI Tools’ Bias When Hiring

Canada Setting Guidelines to Tackle AI Tools’ Bias When Hiring

The Canadian government is working on a framework to tackle discrimination in the hiring processes within government departments, specifically addressing privacy and transparency issues.

This comes as several departments have started incorporating AI into their hiring processes, although a lot of complaints have been raised over AI tools’ discriminatory nature.

Respecting privacy

In an interview covering a wide range of issues, Treasury Board president Anita Anand acknowledged AI’s transformative abilities. She also admitted the concerns around its implementation, pushing the Canadian government to come up with a set of guidelines to help limit discrimination.

“There is no question that at all times, a person’s privacy needs to be respected in accordance with privacy laws, and that our hiring practices must be non-discriminatory and must be embedded with a sense of equality,” Anand told CBC.

“Certainly, as a racialized woman, I feel this very deeply. We need to ensure that any use of AI in the workplace has to be compliant with existing law and has to be able to stand the moral test of being non-discriminatory.”

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Using AI for skills assessment

Responding to questions by NDP MP Matthew Green, the Department of National Defense indicated it used an AI-driven skills assessment tool known as Knockri.

The tool was used on hundreds of pre-recorded job interviews as part of efforts to “reduce bias and promote equity in the recruitment process.”

“Knockri uses machine learning to analyze the speech-to-text content of candidate responses and compare them against determined performance indicators,” the department wrote.

Knockri is a Toronto-based firm that developed an AI-based video recruiting tool to limit bias and enhance the hiring process.

Is the government spying on employees?

The Anand interview with CBC News was done barely a month following investigations by Radio Canada, which unearthed personal data privacy infringements.

It revealed that government departments acquired technology that can be used to extract data from mobile devices like cellphones, as well as computers given to employees.

Anand denied the allegations that the government was using spyware on its employees.

“This is only in cases where there is an investigation or belief that something’s going wrong,” she said, adding that “it’s not used routinely.”

Tackling discrimination

AI discrimination has been a longstanding issue, not only in Canada but a global challenge. In September, Anand introduced guidelines for public servants wishing to use generative AI tools like ChatGPT, saying the government would be watchful of any potential challenges like discrimination and bias.

However, according to CBC, this did not stop Global Affairs from apologizing after posting on social media AI-generated content to represent an Inuit woman.

Global Affairs should have used Treasury Board-made tools to guide employees and departments, “such as the AI guidelines or the Algorithmic Impact Assessment (AIA) process.”

“This is a perfect situation where one might use the algorithmic impact assessment tool that I mentioned,” she said.

“The AIA tool is a series of questions, and those series of questions should be asked when AI is being used in the workplace. They reflect legal, policy, and ethical considerations,” added Anand.

She also expressed her desire to fill gaps in her country’s regulatory framework for AI.

“There’s no doubt AI is a transformative technology. Another thing that I am looking at is really the long term because it requires us to ask how we think about regulation and more broadly.”

“For example, with the advent of autonomous machinery, such as autonomous vehicles, we need to ask ourselves whether the regulation that we have in place is relevant and is applicable in the long term,” said Anand.

Humans remain relevant

While the government explores AI-driven tools in its department, Anand said Canadians should always have the option to speak to a real human. As such, despite adopting the technology, public servants should also not be negatively impacted by the adoption of AI technology in departments.

This comes as there have been concerns and fears that AI technology will take away jobs, leaving millions out of employment.

Through Bill C-27, which is currently before the committee, the Canadian government wants to adopt a framework for the use of AI in federally regulated companies. However, Anand did not specify when the legislation should start to apply in government departments.

However, in 2024, Anand is mandated to revamp aging technology that the government uses to deliver benefits such as Old Age Security (OAS), which is that country’s pension plan and employment insurance.

In line with this, the government made its first transfer of 600,000 foreign OAS recipients to the new platform in June. The second phase of the exercise will commence in the coming year.

“Research shows there is a direct correlation between the confidence that citizens have in our government and the services that they receive. So, we expect to make tangible progress on the replacement of 45-plus-year-old systems,” said Anand.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.