Update: Digging Deeper on ‘Trustworthy AI’

Over the past year, we’ve been exploring the idea of making sure AI in consumer technology enriches — rather than harms — humanity. We call this ‘trustworthy AI’. This blog post provides an update.

As a reminder: much of Mozilla’s work beyond Firefox is focused on movement building: connecting and supporting people around the world dedicated to creating a healthier digital environment. While growing this movement is a useful end in its own right, we also aim to concretely shape how the digital world works. We want to make online life better in a palpable way.

With this in mind, we decided earlier this year on a specific goal to guide a major portion of our movement building work: creating more trustworthy AI in the consumer tech space. This is an area where we believe Mozilla and its allies can have significant impact.

Since April, we’ve been engaging our community and outside experts in a conversation about how we can best pursue this goal. Our expert conversations led us to the conclusion that Mozilla can make the most difference tackling AI issues in the consumer tech space. I blogged about that decision here. Further, our community consultations led us to the conclusion that we should focus on efforts that ensure AI drives personal agency (i.e. people are in control) or increases corporate accountability (e.g. real penalties when AI causes harm). 

All of this conversation fed into a board of directors conversation last month, where we agreed on our long term trustworthy AI focus:

Doing this kind of strategy work takes time. Lots of reading, lots of conversations, lots of debates and nitpicking over email and coffees and Slack. But it was also enlightening: we ended up emerging with a sharper impact goal — one much more focused than our ‘better machine decision making’ language from earlier in the year

Our next step in this work is to develop a full ‘trustworthy AI’ theory of change — looking at the short and medium term outcomes that we’ll tackle with our allies in the coming years. For example, if a long term outcome is more personal agency, we might aim at things like getting governments to mandate data trusts as a way to drive development of trustworthy AI products. We are going to dig into this layer of planning at Mozilla’s next strategy retreat in September, and then feed that into our 2020 planning. 

Of course, we’ve already rolled up our sleeves and started work on these topics in parallel to our strategy work. Just this summer, we called out eavesdropping AI assistants, held Facebook to account for disinformation, and interrogated YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. This year, we have also invested significantly in people who we believe will drive change on these issues, including: working with partners like Omidyar to put $3.5 million behind professors integrating ethics into computer science curriculum; and $2 million in fellowships and awards for engineers, artists, lawyers and activists working on trustworthy AI issues. This work is in the wild and gaining momentum — and it’s also shaped our strategic thinking. 

When I look around, it’s evident that this trustworthy AI focus is the right one for Mozilla’s movement building work right now: concerning big tech stories that keep hitting the news all point back to AI, big data and targeted marketing; governments are rushing to regulate these companies and this technology, yet they often don’t have the knowledge or time to do it well; the public is losing trust in big tech yet doesn’t have any alternatives. We need to move towards a world of AI that is helpful — rather than harmful — to human beings. This can only be done through a broad coalition of people from all corners of the world pushing in the same general direction. We think that is not only urgent, but also eminently possible. 

Expect more updates in the fall as we move into 2020 planning mode.


  1. Karin replied on | Reply

    I am questioning the intelligence of everyone who is under the age of 40 at this time. So, really, artificial intelligence is scary to me just like robots running around stores counting shelf contents. It is just another way of controlling our thinking and actions. I may be wrong but at 77 I just am not sold on it.

  2. Floyd J. Mixon replied on | Reply

    I trust Mozilla will continue to strive for the best for the users of its services.

  3. TONY replied on | Reply

    I guess I cant stop thinking,,,, but I really do not want any Artificial Intelligence.
    What I really want is Authentic Intelligence from humans and the products they
    invent and design for all of us.
    But finding people with style or form of intelligent intelligence, with prudent
    logic and reasoning is very very hard to discover .
    2019 sept 20

  4. Stephen E Vaile replied on | Reply

    “AI” an oxymoron (Oxy..apropos today, no?) until our “natural Intelligence” can find the way/ways to stop and reverse fossil fuel and therefore environmental suicide. The power (electric) to bring all these “AI” endowed devices to sentience will not just magically appear.

    Use NI (natural intelligence) to meet and beat the species threatening problems of today so AI can be implemented in a more energy intelligent world.

  5. Richard Baumgartner replied on | Reply

    The long term trustworthy aspect is a desirable goal. It is very helpful to provide information to the public about the goals that you are pursuing and why you have selected the goals. The long term strategic impact of what you or other organizations are doing is something that is very important. Hence, present planning and debating issues may take longer that initially though. Take the time to get it correct.

  6. Dan Stafford replied on | Reply

    I like the philosophy. I think it’s going to be difficult to put into practice without a consumer “public option” for cloud data storage, email, and phone numbers.

    In this era, online storage, email, and a phone number are necessities of life. I think each citizen should be allocated an email address, phone number, and several terabytes of public storage for life, to include a personal blog with its own domain. All data on that person should reside with their storage, compacted routinely, and under their control. It should be equivalent to postal mail and personal records with regards to privacy laws.

  7. Steve Kennett replied on | Reply

    Right now many of us suffer from constant streams of nusiance emails that block up our in-boxes and taks ages to remove. I realise that may be a low level problem to you guys, but to millions of users this is a major problem. Help is needed here too.

  8. Rick replied on | Reply

    About the international trade agreements : Most people did not know that the TPPA permits large corporations to sue governments when the corporation believes that a governmental policy might damage their profits. The courts that arbitrate over such matters are actioned overseas, in complete  secrecy, and their judgements are binding often with massive fines to governments. Those fines are paid for by taxpayers of course. This is called ISDS and was the worst aspect of the TPP . At a time when large corporations need to show some leadership over reducing our dependence on the use of oil and one-time-plastics, mitigating climate change, ceasing deforestation, mitigating sea-level rise etc WHILE governments are at risk of being sued for putting certain large corporations under pressure over that. When that occurs, it becomes a global existential threat to human and all other life. It is also an assault on the democratic governmental process and on responsible government. The rabbit hole goes deeper still, but I will end there. It is important that governments, corporations especially large powerful ones, as well as individuals behave as ethically as possible. The use of ethical-AI has a big part to play in this as well. Please do your own research on trade agreements as well, such as NAFTA, TPPA, TTIP, RCEP etc and also ISDS. Trade is most important to all people and when done well, it is an antidote to war, but it, like AI it needs to support life in the most ethical way possible and to reduce as many of the existential threats to our planet and its life as currently exist. See also : https://unidirectory.auckland.ac.nz/profile/j-kelsey

  9. Peter Grist replied on | Reply

    I have been warning people for a long time now about the dangers humankind faces from AI, Robotics, Virtual Reality and Algorithms.
    We need to stop, take a deep breath, and gain an awareness as to where we are now, and where all this is leading us.
    Unfortunately, in this world of ours the race to bring out 5G or maybe soon 6G to boast huge technological advances in this lab or that lab. To make more money on the basis that this or that, will improve our lives etc etc. Could go on!
    What are the dangers that man faces currently. 1. First and foremost Climate Change. 2. A grossly overpopulated planet. 3.Cyber and atomic warfare. 5. Our planet be hit by a wayward asteroid. 6. Our planet being struck, full on by a major solar flare.
    On he face of it, the human race exists on a knife edge and we have been damn fortunate to reach this far!
    So I say again, take a deep breath, establish where we are now in this hi-tech world and plan wisely for the next steps forward !

  10. Chamin Morikawa replied on | Reply

    I want to thank you for letting us know about these efforts. As a technical person I was aware of some of Mozilla’s efforts related to AI, but this is much more than what I knew. Thanks again, and I hope that I can contribute in some way in future

  11. Arjan replied on | Reply

    I really like what is being done by Mozzila on the helpful AI front!

  12. Harriet Matter-Jones replied on | Reply

    AI and robotics, interlinked technologies, are potentially extremely dangerous. I’m relieved that there is debate, reflection upon, and strategizing about their wise and judicious utilization. Thank you Mozilla!

  13. Bas van Dam replied on | Reply

    I think your mission to embark on ‘trustworthy AI’ is scary to say the least. Free communication per definition can’t be handled by intervening systems of any sort. Many companies have started out with similar claims of bettering communications and in the end turned into data sellers, add pushers etc.
    Tina Turner sung it wisely: We don’t need another hero. We just want to know the way home.

  14. K S replied on | Reply

    As a Software Eng. I try to practice Comp Sci ethics the best I can. However I remember taking an ethics class, and I think some care and others don’t. Esp when you have other classes that are very hard at the same time. Just saying some thoughts

  15. Steve woodby replied on | Reply

    we must not fear AI it has been integrated in to our society from way back in its rudimentary form ,when the desire to create auto functions for convenience it every day life it is a natural progression, the day of star trek communicator an all knowledge compendium of information is hear , the smart phone, storing massive information, integration in to biology is inevitable, things have advanced so much it is now important to include a moral aspect in to the conversation now ,it is the next jump if you do not wish to eventually be destroyed by your own creation , we know the next jump is a biological computer.

  16. Daniel Johnson-O'Mara replied on | Reply

    I believe AI is doomed to reflect the voracious appetites of corporations and wealth managers…primarily because, other than in the lab, ALL work seems to be tilted towards the Dollar. Your Trustworthy AI may never get beyond the grateful uses of Mozillians! So thanks!

  17. Lee Brewer replied on | Reply

    We have had artificial intelligence for a long time. Think about automatic transmissions for example. Advanced auto navi-steering systems for cars and sailboats, and auto-piloting for planes are more advances on the cusp. AI is making my 81 yr old life a lot easier… I am finding innovative uses for the cell phone that are amazing. I can’t wait to see the next 10 years of AI in automobiles. Anyone traveling in the “primitive” parts of the world on AI controlled trains exceeding 200 mph, just got to be impressed with AI advances. It is just beginning.

  18. Jack van Lelyveld replied on | Reply

    What humans need to clearly understand, is that we will always need to stay in control over all forms of AI and never allow machines and algorithms to be developed to the point and purpose of replacing human intelligence. Machines do not conform to our human nature and so, there must always be an option for humans to halt, stop or switch off the machine’s choice of response.
    AI must be seen and considered merely as enhancing our life experiences and choices, not choosing them for us, or on our behalf. The moment we allow machine learning and resultantly, machine thinking to guide, think and act for us, instead of self regulated thinking, that will be the day and time we as humans will have lost our existential purpose and rights on this planet. That will be the time we as straight thinking humans cave in evil striving for total control over humanity through their resolution to use AI for controlling the masses.
    Stay in control Boys and Girls, stay in control!
    Thank you for all the work and effort you guys at Mozilla put in to achieve exactly at preventing nefarious domination and influence!

  19. Sunil Manandhar replied on | Reply

    AI is new for me and I am just following the conversation. What I can say that we must make “Ethical AI”

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