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Data ethics centre to investigate biased algorithms



The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit will examine the potential for bias in automated decisions.

The centre will look at crime and justice, financial services, recruitment and local government, focusing on the potential for human biases in archives to affect algorithms when they are used as training data.

“We want to work with organisations so they can maximise the benefits of data driven technology and use it to ensure the decisions they make are fair,” Roger Taylor, the founder of healthcare data company Dr Foster and the centre’s chair, was expected to say at a Downing Street event on 20 March. “As a first step we will be exploring the potential for bias in key sectors where the decisions made by algorithms can have a big impact on people’s lives.”

“Technology is a force for good and continues to improve people’s lives but we must make sure it is developed in a safe and secure way,” added digital secretary Jeremy Wright. “Our Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has been set up to help us achieve this aim and keep Britain at the forefront of technological development.”

Algorithmic systems are used in parts of the United States to decide whether those awaiting trial are granted parole. Research by not-for-profit publisher ProPublica on the results of one of the main US systems suggested it was almost twice as likely to falsely label black people as being high risk than white people, although the software’s owner disputed the findings. In the UK, Durham Constabulary has adopted an algorithmically-driven system to decide whether suspects should be kept in custody.

To consider the potential for racial bias in the crime and justice system, the centre will work with the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit, which uses data to highlight differences in outcomes from public services.

The centre will also investigate how online personalisation and micro-targeting affect people, with a series of workshops to investigate views on its acceptability. It will publish interim reviews on both topics this summer, with final reports in early 2020.


Image of Roger Taylor from DCMS

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