Government ‘must play central role in AI development’

The Government must be at the centre of the development of artificial intelligence (AI), a parliamentary report has said.

AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? published by the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, says that the UK is in a strong position to be a world leader in the development of artificial intelligence (AI). This position, coupled with the wider adoption of AI, could deliver a major boost to the economy for years to come, but only if the Government plays a central role in its development.

The report recommends:

  • The Government should be bold and use targeted procurement to provide a boost to AI development and deployment. It could encourage the development of solutions to public policy challenges through speculative investment. There have been impressive advances in AI for healthcare, which the NHS should capitalise on.
  • Many jobs will be enhanced by AI, many will disappear and many new, as yet unknown jobs, will be created. Significant Government investment in skills and training will be necessary to mitigate the negative effects of AI. Retraining will become a lifelong necessity.
  • The prejudices of the past must not be unwittingly built into automated systems. The Government should incentivise the development of new approaches to the auditing of datasets used in AI, and also to encourage greater diversity in the training and recruitment of AI specialists.
  • The Government needs to draw up a national policy framework, in lockstep with the Industrial Strategy, to ensure the coordination and successful delivery of AI policy in the UK.
  • The monopolisation of data by big technology companies must be avoided, and greater competition is required. The Government, with the Competition and Markets Authority, must review the use of data by large technology companies operating in the UK.

 

Government central to development

The report’s authors say that the importance of government as a customer, nationally and locally, should not be forgotten, most notably because it can both procure AI solutions for the public sector and adopt the technology, thereby supporting UK-based technology companies.

BSA (The Software Alliance), a global software advocate, said: “The UK Government could help demonstrate AI’s potential benefits by investing in innovative AI implementations in the public sector.” TechUK suggested that “the use of AI virtual agents across Government departments and the public sector could save an estimated £4bn a year,” while Microsoft argued that deployment of artificial intelligence in the public sector could enable more informed policy decisions, and innovative uses of AI could help address public and societal challenges.

The Government points out that it is championing the use of AI in various projects, including:

  • The Government Digital Service (GDS) uses machine learning to help automate and process user comments from surveys on gov.uk as well as predicting peak traffic demands to the most popular content searched for by the public.
  • GDS works with the Pensions Regulator to improve efficiency using predictive algorithms for future pension scheme behaviour and HMRC uses AI to help identify call centre priorities.
  • HMRC have been engaging in a programme looking at the possibilities of using AI and machine learning to improve their processes and services, as part of a goal to automate 10 million processes by the end of 2018.

Witnesses for the report suggested that Government procurement could be used to encourage greater adoption of artificial intelligence, both through the companies contracting directly with Departments and via the Crown Commercial Service.

Witnesses also point out that the government should be doing much more than they already are. SCAMPI, a research project at City, University of London, said: “the UK public sector … is currently benefiting little from the development and use of artificial intelligence, as few initiatives have been funded or reported.”

 

Recommendations for government

To ensure greater uptake of AI in the public sector, and to lever the Government’s position as a customer in the UK, we recommend that public procurement regulations are reviewed and amended to ensure that UK-based companies offering AI solutions are invited to tender and given the greatest opportunity to participate. The Crown Commercial Service, in conjunction with the Government Digital Office, should review the Government Service Design Manual and the Technology Code of Practice to ensure that the procurement of AI-powered systems designed by UK companies is encouraged and incentivised, and done in an ethical manner.

We also encourage the Government to be bold in its approach to the procurement of artificial intelligence systems, and to encourage the development of possible solutions to public policy challenges through limited speculative investment and support to businesses which helps them convert ideas to prototypes, in order to determine whether their solutions are viable. The value of AI systems which are deployed to the taxpayer will compensate for any money lost in supporting the development of other tools.

Finally, with respect to public procurement, we recommend the establishment of an online bulletin board for the advertisement of challenges which the Government Office for AI and the GovTech Catalyst have identified from across Government and the wider public sector where there could be the potential for innovative tech- and AI-based solutions.

The Government’s leadership in the development and deployment of artificial intelligence must be accompanied by action. We welcome the announcement of the GovTech Catalyst and hope that it can open the doors of Whitehall to the burgeoning AI development sector in the UK.

 

Cross-sector Code

One of the recommendations of the report is for a cross-sector AI Code to be established, which can be adopted nationally, and internationally. The Committee’s suggested five principles for such a code are:

  • Artificial intelligence should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity.
  • Artificial intelligence should operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness.
  • Artificial intelligence should not be used to diminish the data rights or privacy of individuals, families or communities.
  • All citizens should have the right to be educated to enable them to flourish mentally, emotionally and economically alongside artificial intelligence.
  • The autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive human beings should never be vested in artificial intelligence.

 

Further recommendations

Finally, a number of additional recommendations were made in the report, including:

  • Individuals need to be able to have greater personal control over their data, and the way in which it is used. The ways in which data is gathered and accessed needs to change, so that everyone can have fair and reasonable access to data, while citizens and consumers can protect their privacy and personal agency. This means using established concepts, such as open data, ethics advisory boards and data protection legislation, and developing new frameworks and mechanisms, such as data portability and data trusts.
  • Transparency in AI is needed. The industry, through the AI Council, should establish a voluntary mechanism to inform consumers when AI is being used to make significant or sensitive decisions.
  • At earlier stages of education, children need to be adequately prepared for working with, and using, AI. The ethical design and use of AI should become an integral part of the curriculum.
  • It is not currently clear whether existing liability law will be sufficient when AI systems malfunction or cause harm to users, and clarity in this area is needed. The Committee recommend that the Law Commission investigate this issue.

The full report can be viewed here.

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