Standards support the conversation around artificial intelligence (AI)

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The acceleration and proliferation of AI products and services means that closer attention is being paid to it by government agencies, regulators and industry. There are questions being asked about potential threats to trustworthiness, cybersecurity, and ethical AI, both here in New Zealand and abroad.

The international standards community, under the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC),  have been working on standards development in AI since 2017, through JTC1/SC42 (Sub Committee 42).

To date, three standards have been published, and 13 more are under development, with 28 countries participating in their development. New Zealand currently does not participate in the development of these standards, however, there is an opportunity to do so if the local AI community deems it worthwhile. 

New Zealand has ‘Observer’ status. This means that, although we are unable to play an active role, we can stay up to date as standards are developed by the committees formed by the 28 countries who have chosen to participate.  Generally, industries and/or government agencies from across multiple sectors choose to participate in standards development when they feel it is in the best interests of their country, or sector, to do so.  

New Zealand’s active participation in IT-related standards development committees includes:

  • Information security, cybersecurity, and privacy protection
  • Biometrics
  • Software and systems engineering
  • Intelligent transport systems
  • Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies. 

You can view the full list of ISO standards that New Zealand participates in here.

Just this month ISO released their latest magazine entitled The age of artificial intelligence in which they state ‘this is a pivotal time to be involved in standards for AI’.  

Standards Australia, with whom we do the majority of our work, are active participants in AI standards development and help lead the conversation in this space.  They released a discussion paper in July 2019 which is well worth a read.  This will lead to the launch of a Standards Roadmap for AI in early 2020.

This roadmap builds on international work in AI standards development and will point to opportunities for Australian stakeholders to become more involved in shaping these emerging international standards. These insights will likely be useful for New Zealand stakeholders, too.

Why is this important to New Zealand Inc?

Regulators have many levers to pull to ensure that policies are implemented and risks are mitigated.  One of the questions regulators ask is whether any best-practice tool is already in use by industry.   This is where International standards come into their own.  Standards from ISO and IEC allow harmonisation across borders and can open up trade opportunities for participants. They help establish trust, minimise unnecessary duplication and confusion, and help businesses with risk mitigation and compliance. 

There is a raft of independent standards created by large, multinational organisations which would suggest that their standards are worth adopting. The difference with ISO and IEC is that their standards draw expertise from all over the world and are created through a robust consensus-based process, with innovative thinking being poured into the process.  

They are also not aligned with any particular business interest.  ISO and IEC standards are developed using a process that is aligned with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement. Standards NZ administers the TBT Enquiry Point for New Zealand.

By being in the ‘room’ and contributing to the development of standards, countries know exactly what is coming down the pipeline. This helps them remain at the forefront of new thinking and, if adopted by businesses, can showcase to regulators that they are aligning with what is deemed international best-practice. This is, therefore, a better tool to ensure risk mitigation than increased regulation, for example.

 As a trading nation, it is critical for New Zealand to be at the table as these discussions continue.  It is an opportunity to ensure that what is being added to a standard will not unduly put our businesses on the back foot in terms of international opportunities. It may be time to consider whether the New Zealand AI community would like to be an active participant in these standards. 

Interested in learning more?

Get in touch with the Standards New Zealand Sector Engagement Lead Natalie Bowie to find out more. Call her on 021 824412 or email

Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

Published in business and ICT.