On 18 December 2020, the UK House of Lords Liaison Committee on AI published a new report, AI in the UK: No Room for Complacency

The report considers the UK government’s progress against the recommendations made by the Select Committee on AI in their 2018 report, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?

The report contains a series of new recommendations covering public understanding of AI, use of data, ethics, public trust and regulation, jobs and the role of government.

The Committee’s key recommendations include:

Public understanding and data

Active steps must be taken to explain to the general public the use of their personal data by AI. The Government must lead the way on actively explaining how data is being used. 

The AI Council must make sure it is informing such policy development in a timely manner, and the Government must make sure it is listening to the Council’s advice.  

The AI Council should take into account the importance of public trust in AI systems, and ensure that developers are developing systems in a trustworthy manner.  The Committee also want to see Government build upon the recommendations of the Hall-Pesenti Review in terms of the development and deployment of data trusts.

Regulation

The Committee does not consider that the challenges posed by the development and deployment of AI can be tackled by cross-cutting regulation. Instead they believe that sector-specific regulators are better placed to identify gaps in regulation, and to learn about AI and apply it to their sectors. The Committee proposed that the CDEI and Office for AI can play a cross-cutting role, along with the ICO, to provide that understanding of risk and the necessary training and upskilling for sector specific regulators.

In particular, the Committee recommends that the ICO, the UK’s data protection regulator develops a training course for use by regulators to ensure that their staff have a grounding in the ethical and appropriate use of public data and AI systems, and its opportunities and risks. The training should be prepared and rolled out by July 2021.

Ethics

The Committee believes that the need for ethical AI is now accepted and that the Government must lead the way on the operationalisation of ethical AI. The CDEI could lead those conversations, both nationally and internationally.  They also suggest that the CDEI and the Government should not be afraid to challenge the unethical use of AI by other governments or organisations.

The CDEI should establish and publish national standards for the ethical development and deployment of AI. National standards will provide an ingrained approach to ethical AI, and ensure consistency and clarity on the practical standards expected for the companies developing AI, the businesses applying AI, and the consumers using AI. These standards should consist of two frameworks, one for the ethical development of AI, including issues of prejudice and bias, and the other for the ethical use of AI by policymakers and businesses. These two frameworks should reflect the different risks and considerations at each stage of AI use.

Role of Government

There must be more and better coordination of AI in Government, and it must start at the top. The Committee recommends that a Cabinet Committee be established whose terms of reference include the strategic direction of Government AI policy and the use of data and technology by national and local government. 

The Committee should commission and approve a five year strategy for AI. Such a strategy should include a reflection on whether the existing bodies and their remits are sufficient, and the work required to prepare society to take advantage of AI (rather than being taken advantage of by AI).

The Government must also take immediate steps to appoint a Chief Data Officer, whose responsibilities should include acting as a champion for the opportunities presented by AI in the public service, and ensuring that understanding and use of AI, and the safe and principled use of public data, are embedded across the public service.

As you can see, a fair amount to chew on here. We will have to see how Government responds to these recommendations. We know that the UK’s post Brexit strategy includes turning it into a global tech powerhouse and our leading expertise in AI is a key part of achieving that goal. But, as highlighted in the report, key concerns remain in terms of training and skills. Indeed, in the Committee’s final recommendation it concludes “It will however be a cause for great concern if the UK is, or is seen to be, less welcoming to top researchers, and less supportive of them. The Government must ensure that the UK offers a welcoming environment for students and researchers, and helps businesses to maintain a presence here. Changes to the immigration rules must promote rather than obstruct the study, research and development of AI.”

You can read the full report here.

Author

Sue has significant experience advising on commercial technology projects for almost 20 years. She advises clients (both customers and vendors) on a wide range of technology matters, including outsourcing, cloud, digital transformation, technology procurement, development and licensing, m/e-commerce, AI, blockchain and data privacy.

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