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Lords call for increased effort on ethical AI


A group of peers has said the Government needs to better co-ordinate its policy on artificial intelligence and the use of data and technology in national and local government – with the appointment of a chief data officer being a crucial step.

The House of Lords Liaison Committee has published a report, AI in the UK: No Room for Complacency, saying the Government now has to move from defining the ethics to instilling them in the development and deployment of AI systems.

It examines the progress made by the Government in implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence in its 2018 report, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?

The report notes that, since the earlier publication appeared, the use of AI has increased in several areas including public services. It points to the use of facial recognition by some police forces and projects in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

These can produce benefits but also create risks around the use of personal data. While there is a consensus that there should be a strong ethical dimension to the use of AI, there is a danger that the momentum may flag and steps should be taken to apply them to the way the technology is used.

This should involve a clear role for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation in publishing national standards leading the conversations. (The body has recently called for a ‘transparency obligation’ on the public sector use of algorithms).

Need for data chief

The committee calls for other measures, urging the Government to take immediate steps to appoint a chief data officer – a plan that has been in the pipeline since 2017 but apparently made little progress – and that the responsibilities will include acting as a champion for AI in public services.

The role should also involve ensuring that an understanding and use of AI, and the safe and principled use of data, are embedded across the sector.

Along with this, the Government should actively explain to the public how their data is used with AI.

Other recommendations are that the Government should take steps to raise the level of necessary digital skills in the UK, so people can adapt to changes in the labour market cause by AI, and it should identify the industries most at risk.

Caution against complacency

Lord Clement-Jones, former chair of the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, said: “The Government has done well to establish a range of bodies to advise it on AI over the long term. However, we caution against complacency. There must be more and better coordination, and it must start at the top.

“A Cabinet committee must be created whose first task should be to commission and approve a five-year strategy for AI. The strategy should prepare society to take advantage of AI rather than be taken advantage of by it.

“The Government must lead the way on making ethical AI a reality. Not to do so would be to waste the progress it has made to date, and to squander the opportunities AI presents for everyone in the UK.”

Image from iStock, IR Stone

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