The Evolution and Importance of AI Standards

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming industries, driving innovation, and reshaping the way we live and work. However, this rapid advancement brought some serious questions. 

For example, how do we know if the AI systems we are building are safe, ethical, and trustworthy? How do we ensure that AI is being used for the benefit of all individuals and society? These questions, among others, have led to the development of AI standards, providing a structured framework that guides AI systems’ development, deployment, and governance. 

In this article, we will explore the historical context of AI standards, their different types, and the benefits they offer.

Historical Context of AI Standards

The idea of AI standards is not new. It dates back to the 1980s when the first discussions about standardizing AI began. At that time, researchers and policymakers were concerned about the potential risks associated with autonomous systems, such as robots and drones. However, it was not until the 2000s that AI standards gained more attention due to technological advancements and increased public awareness about AI.

In recent years, with the emergence of powerful deep learning algorithms and the widespread use of AI in various industries, the need for standardized practices has become even more critical. Major tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM have also started investing in developing their own internal AI guidelines and policies.

Development Timeline of AI Standards

Understanding the history of AI standards helps us see the progress and evolution of these regulations and the journey they have taken. While the development of AI standards is still an ongoing process, let’s take a look at some of the significant milestones in its timeline:

2018: Social Principles

The initial phase of AI standardization focused on establishing basic social principles. In 2018, the primary concerns were fairness, safety, and transparency. These early standards aimed to ensure that AI technologies were developed with ethical considerations at the forefront. 

For example, guidelines were established to prevent biased decision-making in AI algorithms and to enhance the transparency of AI processes, making it easier for users to understand how AI systems arrived at their conclusions.

2020: National Frameworks and Social Guidelines

By 2020, the focus had shifted towards developing national frameworks and higher-level governance structures. This period saw the introduction of frameworks such as the NIST AI Risk Management Framework (RMF) in the United States and the European Union’s Regulatory Framework proposal on AI.

These frameworks aimed to provide structured approaches to AI governance, ensuring that AI systems were developed and deployed responsibly, ethically, and with accountability. They emphasized the need for robust risk management practices and higher-level governance to oversee the ethical use of AI.

2022: Technical Guidelines and Standardization

The year 2022 marked a significant shift towards establishing technical guidelines and standardizing procedures across the industry. During this period, we saw the emergence of industry-specific backend guidelines and standards, particularly from ISO/IEC.

These guidelines focused on specific technical aspects of AI that would ensure interoperability, reliability, and security of AI systems. These standards were especially important for industries such as healthcare and finance, where the reliability and accuracy of AI systems could have significant implications for human lives and financial stability.

The importance of technical guidelines and standardization continued to grow as AI technology became more sophisticated, raising concerns about the biases and unintended consequences that could arise from AI decision-making.

2023-Present: Harmonization and Growth of Standards/Regulations

The current focus is on harmonizing and expanding existing standards and regulations globally, with the aim of creating a unified framework for responsible, ethical AI development and deployment.

The EU AI Act and developments in ISO/IEC standards are great examples of efforts to make AI standards operational and supportive of AI business operations on a global scale.

The AI Act is the first legal framework in the world that regulates AI, with a focus on ensuring transparent and accountable development and deployment of AI systems. It also includes provisions for risk management, human oversight, and data protection.

In parallel, ISO/IEC has been working on expanding its existing standards to cover new areas such as explainability and trustworthy AI. The goal is to create a comprehensive set of standards that can be implemented by organizations worldwide to ensure responsible and ethical use of AI.

Furthermore, several countries have started drafting their own regulations for AI, creating a patchwork of laws that could potentially hinder global innovation and collaboration. As such, there is a need for international cooperation to harmonize these regulations while still allowing for flexibility and adaptability to local contexts.

Types of AI Standards

Now that we have discussed the development and expansion of AI standards and regulations, let’s explore the different types of standards that exist. AI standards can be broadly categorized into several types, each serving different purposes and providing specific guidelines for various aspects of AI development and deployment.

International Standards

International standards are universally recognized guidelines that apply globally, helping to streamline processes and ensure quality and safety across borders. Organizations such as ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) develop these standards to provide a common foundation for AI technologies.

International standards for AI cover a wide range of topics, including terminology, risk management, ethical considerations, and data protection. They are essential for ensuring the interoperability and compatibility of AI systems across different countries and regions, facilitating global trade and collaboration.

Technical Specifications (TS)

Technical Specifications are developed for works that are still under technical development or for frameworks that anticipate eventual consensus. These specifications provide preliminary guidelines that can evolve as the technology matures. TS are particularly useful for emerging AI technologies that are not yet fully standardized but require initial guidance to ensure they develop in a safe and reliable manner.

Technical Reports (TR)

Technical Reports typically include data from surveys, informative reports, or updates on the current state of the art in technology. They provide valuable insights into the latest advancements, potential risks, and best practices in AI development and deployment, helping stakeholders stay informed about emerging trends and challenges. TRs are often used to disseminate research findings and best practices, contributing to the broader knowledge base of AI development.

Benefits of AI Standards

The implementation of AI standards comes with multiple benefits for different stakeholders, including technology developers, policymakers, businesses, and end-users. They contribute to the safe, ethical, and effective deployment of AI technologies and promote trust in AI systems. Some of the key benefits of AI standards include:

Assurance and Confidence

AI standards ensure that AI systems meet predefined criteria for safety, reliability, and ethical behavior. This instills confidence among users and stakeholders, fostering trust in AI technologies. 

For example, standards that address algorithmic transparency and fairness help ensure that AI systems make decisions that are explainable and free from bias, enhancing user trust and acceptance.

Innovation and Competitiveness

By providing a common foundation for development and interoperability, AI standards promote innovation and competitiveness in the global market. How? Well, standards enable developers to build on existing technologies without having to reinvent the wheel, accelerating the pace of innovation. They also ensure that new AI products can integrate seamlessly with existing systems, promoting a vibrant ecosystem of interoperable AI solutions.

Market Access and Trade Facilitation

By simplifying regulatory compliance and reducing barriers to trade, harmonized standards facilitate market access for AI products and services. They provide a common understanding of technical requirements, enabling businesses to develop products that comply with multiple regulations in different markets.

This ensures that AI technologies can reach global markets, benefiting from economies of scale. For example, adherence to international standards can help AI companies navigate different regulatory landscapes more easily, opening up opportunities for international expansion and collaboration.

Risk Mitigation and Liability Management

With AI technologies having the potential to cause significant harm and damage, standards play an important role in risk mitigation and liability management. For example, if an AI system is developed and operated in compliance with relevant standards, it can provide a legal defense for the developers and users in case of any malfunctions or failures.

Therefore, AI standards help identify and mitigate risks associated with AI deployment, contributing to better risk management practices and clearer liability allocation. By providing guidelines for risk assessment and management, standards help organizations identify potential risks early and implement measures to mitigate them. This reduces the likelihood of adverse outcomes and clarifies the allocation of liability in case of failures or incidents involving AI systems.

Societal Impact and Public Trust

By addressing concerns related to fairness, accountability, transparency, and privacy, AI standards promote societal welfare and enhance public trust in AI technologies. For instance, standards can help ensure that AI systems are not biased and do not discriminate against certain groups of people. They can also provide guidelines for transparent and ethical data collection, usage, and sharing.

Standards that prioritize ethical considerations and user rights help ensure that AI systems are developed and deployed in ways that respect human dignity and societal values. This, in turn, enhances public trust and acceptance of AI technologies, paving the way for broader adoption and positive societal impact.


The development and enforcement of AI standards are essential for ensuring that AI technologies are beneficial for all. These standards provide a robust framework that guides the responsible development and deployment of AI systems, fostering trust, innovation, and compliance. 

As the AI landscape continues to evolve, standards will need to adapt to new challenges and innovations. Understanding them and their impact is essential for anyone involved in the development, deployment, or governance of AI technologies. 

By adopting and adhering to AI standards, organizations can ensure that AI technologies contribute to a better, more equitable world. The future of AI is bright, and with the right standards in place, we can navigate this exciting and transformative landscape with confidence and responsibility.