Thales and digital responsibility
Thales’s 10 commitments for digital responsibility
The digital revolution has transformed our daily lives. By paving the way for new practices and use cases, and allowing us to generate and process data on an unprecedented scale, digital technologies have heralded the dawn of a new age – one in which we are more connected and more efficient than ever before. But the digital transformation is far from complete and, with so much change still to come, people are rightly worried about what tomorrow has in store.
Empowered by its culture of innovation and its deep understanding of major societal issues, Thales is helping to shape the future direction of this revolution. Now, the Group has decided to develop a Digital Ethics Charter, setting out its 10 commitments on digital trust and responsibility.
These commitments, which are consistent with Thales’s purpose of “building a future we can all trust”, focus on three priorities: helping to make the world safer and more secure by increasing the safety and security of our solutions, using digital technologies to help build a more environmentally responsible world and placing humans at the centre of digital technologies and helping to build a more inclusive, more equitable world.
1. Keeping humans in control of artificial intelligence
Systems powered by artificial intelligence are capable of operating autonomously. Thales undertakes to start from the premise that human beings must conserve the capacity to assume control over these systems, based on the use cases established with the customer. The Group uses artificial intelligence to enhance people’s ability to make decisions, not to replace human beings.
Thales uses artificial intelligence in its automated passport control gates. But at any point in the process, the border official is able to take over from the machine and talk to the traveller or proceed with a manual passport inspection.
2. Designing explainable artificial intelligence systems
Some artificial intelligence systems operate with little or no clarity as to the process by which inputs are converted into outputs. This “black box” phenomenon can erode users’ trust in these technologies. Thales undertakes to explain the rules by which the algorithms operate and to provide details of the design of the technologies themselves, to the extent possible under the rules governing data confidentiality and protection of sensitive information.
The Refit Optimizer is a predictive maintenance system that uses model-based artificial intelligence to schedule naval in-service support. The technology presents a set of key parameters (such as cost and vessel downtime), then proposes different maintenance options based on these parameters. Human users select the most appropriate course of action themselves.
3. Adopting a privacy-by-design approach
As new threats emerge, from the rapid replication of malfunctions to concerns around the sharing of sensitive information, Thales undertakes to apply the principles of privacy- and cybersecurity-by-design in the development of its systems and solutions. The Group constantly strives to optimise the types and amounts of data needed to achieve the desired outcome.
Thales is harnessing the encryption capabilities of 5G chips to protect users’ personal data. And for end-to-send security, the Group combines this technology with tamper-proof systems for telecommunication infrastructure.
4. Striving to make Thales’s solutions as secure and resilient as possible
Cybercrime remains an ever-present danger, and the only way to guard against this threat is to plan ahead and implement appropriate protections.
Thales undertakes to use its expertise, coupled with its innovation capabilities, to develop solutions that make society more digitally secure – now and in the future.
In the not-too-distant future, quantum computers may well be capable of breaking the encryption keys that currently keep a large portion of global data flows secure. Thales has developed “post-quantum” encryption algorithms, such as the Falcon digital signature algorithm, that will stand firm against these attacks.
5. Harnessing the power of digital technology to tackle climate change
Thales undertakes to support innovations that help reduce natural resource and energy use and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Thales’s latest intelligent flight and air traffic management technologies make it possible to optimise flight paths in real time. These technologies are expected to reduce fuel consumption – and associated CO2 emissions – by around 10%.
6. Adopting a frugal approach to data
By 2025, global data creation is projected to grow to more than 180 zettabyes. Such a huge volume of data poses a whole range of problems, starting with the energy needed to store and process it.
When developing its digital systems, Thales strives to be reasoned and proportionate in the production and use of data. The Group prioritises smart data over big data and data quality over data quantity.
Through its edge computing strategy, Thales endeavours to ensure that processing operations take place as close as possible to the data source (e.g. sensors such as radars, cameras and satellite instruments) in order to limit the amount of data that is sent to data centres or stored in the cloud.
7. Making eco-design the norm
Thales is committed to shrinking the environmental footprint of its products. The Group pledges to adopt eco-design principles for 100% of its new products by 2023.
Thales has cut the number of servers needed to power its latest-generation air traffic management systems by switching to virtual servers and shared hosting.
8. Tackling discriminatory bias in digital technologies
Algorithm design and training data can introduce involuntary bias into artificial intelligence systems which, for example, have been seen to discriminate against certain population groups. From the earliest design phase, Thales undertakes to put in place processes to detect bias in its artificial intelligence systems.
The Group strives to ensure that its datasets are balanced and fair, and is working to achieve greater diversity within its development teams.
The algorithms used in Thales’s biometric solutions are designed to be as accurate and neutral as possible. The Group submits all of its algorithms to the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – an independent standard-setting body – for testing and assessment.
9. Promoting inclusion through digital technologies
According to the United Nations, more than one-third of the world’s population is still offline, while close to one billion people globally do not possess proof of legal identity.
Thales undertakes to use its knowledge and expertise to bring digital inclusion to disadvantaged communities, both through its products – such as digital identification systems and telecoms satellites – and through its employee engagement initiatives.
Under the Thales Solidarity programme, which began in 2019, the Group leverages innovation to support a range of projects focusing on education, professional integration and environmental protection.
10. Helping employees navigate the digital age
To unlock the full potential of the digital transformation, people need to understand how new technologies work so they can make intelligent use of the tools at their disposal.
Thales undertakes to build a community of informed users by providing digital training to all of its employees.
The Group has added new courses for non-specialists to its Thales Learning Hub, which also offers programmes on ethics and other non-technical topics for employees in all roles and functions.
A human-centred approach to digital technologies
To coincide with European Sustainable Development Week, Thales is publishing its new Digital Ethics Charter, which sets out the Group’s 10 commitments for digital responsibility.
Raphaël de Cormis, VP, Innovation and Digital Transformation and CEO of the Thales Digital Factory, discusses the background and vision behind Thales’s approach to digital technology.