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Shaping the safe evolution of digital technologies and AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies have the potential to deliver significant benefits for Canada and the world, but only if they are developed and used responsibly. Standards and conformity assessment (or assurance) are vital to ensuring that happens. That’s why SCC has been at the forefront of setting those standards and making sure they’re applied appropriately.

Working together to standardize responsible AI management

Traditionally, there’s a gap between the development of a standard and the subsequent implementation of a conformity assessment scheme to measure compliance, often spanning several years. But AI is evolving too quickly for that approach to keep pace.

To be effective at governing how AI systems are created, used and managed, the standard on AI management systems (ISO/IEC 42001) had to be applicable as soon as it was published in December 2023. To make that happen, we teamed up with three partners to pilot a new approach: developing and testing a conformity assessment program while the standard was still being drafted.

We selected ATB Financial, an Alberta-based personal banking company with a relatively mature AI ecosystem, to undergo the pilot conformity assessment process. Ernst & Young (EY) was charged with measuring ATB Financial’s organizational systems and processes against the ISO/IEC standard. We also brought on the Responsible AI Institute to assess ATB Financial’s AI applications against its own certification scheme for AI products. 

This pilot, which concluded in December 2023, enabled us to use a real-world scenario to determine how easy or difficult it was to prove and assess compliance with the new ISO/IEC standard and how multiple standards looking at different layers of AI might work together.

Through iterative discussions and open transparency among all partners, we were able to establish the conformity assessment scheme in record time. We were also able to bring our feedback from that process to ISO/IEC through the SCC-led Canadian mirror committee so the standard could be improved while still in development. This made the final published standard easier for companies to use and understand.

Real stories, real impact

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"We’ve always aimed to align everything we do with the latest standards and best practices. But that’s been hard with our AI tools, because until now, there haven’t been any internationally recognized frameworks we could use to make sure we were doing things the right way — and assure our clients and stakeholders of that. Being a part of this project was an incredible opportunity to make sure we were on the right track and address any weaknesses as soon as possible. Improving AI governance is not a one-day process, so getting assessed against the standard early meant we could embed the learnings into our action plans for the coming year.

Although auditing and compliance verification is nothing new to ATB, I’ve never been involved with the standard development process. SCC was always right there to answer our questions, support us in our discussions with EY and the RAI Institute, connect us to the mirror committee, and provide guidance throughout the whole process.”

— Yukun Zhang, Director of AI Governance and Responsible AI, ATB Financial

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“I’ve been involved with standard development before, but this was a novel experience. Typically, you work with a theoretical use case and try to anticipate the compliance questions or challenges a company might have. But here we had real conversations with ATB Financial, including a lot of dialogue about how they interpreted the standard’s requirements, what was challenging about meeting them, and so on. That gave us a lot we could take back to the mirror committee to point out areas of the standard that weren’t clear enough or seemed incomplete, or where more guidance might be required to help companies seeking certification later.

SCC was a great partner in this work, making sure the right information got passed along to the right people to ensure everyone’s efforts were optimized. Standards development needs to happen faster — so the agility and creativity SCC demonstrated here will be really important in the age of AI.”

— Cathy Cobey, Responsible AI Co-Lead, EY Global

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“We’d previously assessed ATB Financial’s AI tool, and now doing so again in parallel with the ISO/IEC standard gave us a much better understanding of how the two standards work together, and how actions taken to meet the organizational standard might affect compliance with the application standard, and vice versa. It’s exciting to be able to contribute that understanding to the industry and see how all the various ‘puzzle pieces’ involved in AI governance — laws, standards, certification schemes — can fit together to provide assurance about specific AI applications and the organizations that use them.

This process also underscored just how important the nature and extent of human involvement is to every facet of responsible AI use. That led us to update our own assessment scheme to ensure we’re putting enough emphasis on that ‘human in the loop’ element when we evaluate a company’s AI applications.”

— Var Shankar, Executive Director, Responsible AI Institute

A new collaborative to guide AI and data governance

In 2023, we launched the AI and Data Governance Standardization Collaborative to address national and international issues. These include standardization strategies to support the Canadian economy, support for Indigenous leadership in the AI and digital economy, consistency across domestic and international standards, and a larger role for Canadian innovators in shaping the advancement of responsible AI. 
The Collaborative, which includes members from government, industry, civil society, Indigenous organizations, academia and standards development organizations, is an extension of the Canadian Data Governance Standardization Collaborative formed in 2019. The new Collaborative is building on the recommendations outlined in the previous group’s Data Governance Standardization Roadmap.

Certification for digital credentials and digital trust services

Throughout the year, we worked with 20 product developers, one conformity assessment body and an observation committee of more than 110 members who began testing a conformity assessment program for a technical specification on digital credentials and digital trust services that was published in May 2023. Following the conclusion of the pilot program, a full-scale conformity assessment program is expected to be ready in the next few years to support consistent application of the technical specification.

Get involved: help shape international standards

International standards development is fueled by professionals who join committees to represent their country. Our members share their time and expertise to advance Canada’s best interests through mirror committees and governance work at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Find out how you can become a member.

Join our accreditation team

We’re always looking to grow our pool of qualified assessors, inspectors and technical experts. Hired on a contractual basis, they have the flexibility to accept assessment assignments on a case-by-case basis. In addition to compensation for all work associated with assessments, SCC also pays for travel and accommodations. Apply online to join our team.

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If you found this article insightful, help us spread the word! Share it with your networks and let others know how standardization can benefit everyone. Together, we can build a brighter, more sustainable future through the power of accreditation and innovation.