Mark SayManaging EditorThursday 23 November 2017

UK to get national advisory body for data and AI

Autumn Budget includes plan for creation of Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

The Government has announced plans for what it describes as the world’s first national advisory body for data and artificial intelligence (AI).

Abstract image of digital in human headIt has highlighted the move as one of the measures outlined in the Autumn Budget statement, saying it will establish a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation as part of its move to boost the UK’s digital sector.

The Budget document says the centre will work with government, regulators and industry to support the adoption of AI, with forecasts that it could boost productivity in some sectors by up to 30% and increase GPS by 10%.

It adds that the Government is investing £75 million in supporting recommendations of the recent independent review on AI, which included a proposal for a programme to support public sector use of the technology.

While there is a growing interest in how it could be used in public services, there are also concerns about the ethical implications. Early in the year the then chief scientific adviser to the Government, Sir Mark Walport, said there are worries that AI would not always be objective in its application, and that it could create new vulnerabilities in society.

Discussions at recent UKAuthority conferences on the subject have made clear that public servants are grappling with where to place the boundaries for the use of AI and what safeguards should be applied.

Need for clarity

There has also been a long running debate about the appropriate use of data by public and private sectors. Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society, welcomed the announcement but said there needs to be some clarity about the new organisation's functions.

He said: “The RSS has long been campaigning for the need for a public dialogue around the ethics of using data; we’re pleased to see the Government taking this seriously in today’s Budget.

"It is important, however, that there is clear blue water between the functions of this new body and the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Nuffield Foundation’s Convention on Data Ethics. The best role for this body is to look at where existing regulation needs strengthening, rather than to do the regulation itself.”

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