Mulling over the details: UK’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

If the UK wants to become a data-driven, digital first economy, it will have to tackle the issue of AI and ethics first.
14 June 2018

Matt Hancock arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London for the weekly cabinet meeting on June 5, 2018. Source: AFP

The United Kingdom is on a mission to harness technology to improve the quality of life of its citizens and the digital ecosystem for its businesses.

To that end, its Chancellor announced the launch of a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation in the Autumn Budget 2017.

Yesterday, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport issued a consultation paper outlining its vision for the Centre and seeking views on the activities and work, from citizens and specialists.

“We encourage responses from all those who have an interest and stake in the way data use and AI are governed and regulated,” said the department’s press note.

Thrilled about the launch of the consultation paper, Rt Hon Matt Hancock, MP Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, said:

Advances in how data is used, and the technologies that lie behind it, are transforming the world as we know it.

We have already seen some fantastic progress, including how we diagnose illness, deliver public services and tackle social challenges like climate change.

The Centre will make sure our society can keep pace with these dramatic changes and maximize the benefits they bring.

From helping us deal with the novel ethical issues raised by rapidly-developing technologies such as artificial intelligence, agreeing best practice around data use to identifying potential new regulations, the Centre will set out the measures needed to build trust and enable innovation in data-driven technologies.

The Government is focused on going full throttle with digital but is cautious about the repercussions of not thinking ahead about its impact on people and society.

Hancock recognizes that the use of data and artificial intelligence (AI) is set to enhance lives in powerful and positive ways.

As a result, he wants the UK to be at the forefront of global efforts to harness data and AI as a force for good.

“For this, our businesses, citizens, and public sector need clear rules and structures that enable safe and ethical innovation in data and AI. The UK already benefits from well established and robustly enforced personal data laws, as well as wider regulations that guide how data-driven activities and sectors can operate,” explains the department.

However, advances in the ways we use data are giving rise to new and sometimes unfamiliar economic and ethical issues.

The UK wants to make sure it builds the right governance structure to address these rapidly evolving issues. Failing to do so, they believe, can cause the public to lose confidence and cause businesses to avoid innovating.

The rise of a new advisory body

The 25-page consultation document’s executive summary highlights that the Centre intends to identify the measures needed to strengthen and improve the way data and AI are used and regulated.

The Centre will also be tasked with articulating best practices and advising the government about potential gaps in regulations.

Based on the ideas set forth in the consultation paper, it seems as though the Centre will not be regulating the use of data and AI by itself.

Its role, as the government sees it right now, is to enable and support those who govern and regulate the use of data across sectors.

To fulfill this role, the Centre will tap into information from regulators, academia, the public, and business and create useful and relevant insights.

The Centre will also be expected to translate its learning from partners into recommendations and actions that deliver direct, real-world impact on the way that data and AI are used.

The department sees the Centre holding a unique role, acting as the authoritative source of advice to government on the governance of data and AI.

Where do ethics come into the picture?

Well, across its work, the Centre will seek to deliver the best possible outcomes for society from the use of data and AI. This includes supporting innovative and ethical uses of data and AI.

These objectives will be mutually reinforced by ensuring that data and AI are used ethically.

The Centre will promote trust in these technologies, which it hopes, will help drive the growth of responsible innovation and strengthen the UK’s position as one of the most trusted places in the world for data-driven businesses to invest in.

The consultation paper suggests the following responsibilities for the Centre:

  • Analyzing and anticipating gaps in the governance landscape
  • Agreeing and articulating best practice to guide ethical and innovative uses of data
  • Advising Government on the need for specific policy or regulatory action

On page 15 of the paper, the department highlights that the Centre will be tasked with prioritizing considerations about the use of data and AI in the following areas:

  • Targeting
  • Fairness
  • Transparency
  • Liability
  • Data access, and
  • Intellectual property and ownership

The consultation paper contains a total of 8 questions and will accept responses till the end of the UK’s day on September 5.