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Government positive to Science and Technology Committee’s report on algorithms

The government has issued its overwhelmingly positive response to the Science and Technology Committee’s report on the use of algorithms in decision making, published earlier this year

The government has published its response to the Science and Technology Committee’s report on algorithms, which recommended using data trusts to hold sensitive data, saying transparency is key.

The original report from the committee, entitled Algorithms in decision-making, was published in May 2018 and set out key challenges using algorithms and the importance of balancing the benefits and the risks. 

In the report, the committee said that algorithms are “being used in an ever-growing number of areas, in ever-increasing ways” and have huge potential to transform public services. It added that the government should make public data sets available, “not just for ‘big data’ developers, but also algorithm developers”.

It added that it welcomed the government’s plans for a data trusts approach to mirror current open data initiatives. Putting sensitive data sets into data trusts means it’s still possible to use the data for research and new initiatives, while ensuring it is kept safe and secure.  

In its response, the government said it supports the committee’s calls for safe and responsible innovative uses of data, and added that “data sharing frameworks such as data trusts could operate using a regulatory sandbox model to facilitate exploratory analyses and offer new insight”.

The report also recommended the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) commissioned a review from the Alan Turing Insitute on how to set out a procurement model for “algorithms developed with private sector partners which fully realised the value for public sector”, and see how the data trusts could be developed as a “forum for striking such algorithm partner deals”. 

The government said in its response that data trusts could be one of the support mechanisms to develop this, and that CCS “will explore the points raised by the committee and engage with relevant organisations involved in technology and data science, including the Alan Turing Institute and others, as it develops its category strategies in this area.”

Earlier this year, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched plans to boost to UK’s data strategy, which is currently under development, with a new centre for data ethics and innovation. 

Among the roles of the centre is to promote safe, ethical and innovative use of data. It will put the UK at the forefront of global efforts to seize the opportunities of artificial intelligence (AI).

The committee’s report called on the centre to ensure safeguards are in place against bias brought on by, for instance, algorithms having incomplete data. The government said it agreed with the recommendation and is now “considering how it can best support transparency around the use of algorithms and use of data more generally”.

The government has also launched a public consultation on the role, objectives and activities of the centre, as well as a Data Ethics Framework, which it said will be used to make sure the UK government sets the highest global standards for how public servants should use data appropriately and provide first-rate evidence for policy and service design.

Read more about the government’s digital strategy

  • House of Lords Select Committee calls for government to draw up an ethical code of conduct, which organisations developing AI can sign up to.
  • The government promises new “startup” visa for entrepreneurs, a £2.5bn British Patient Capital fund to support UK companies going global, and plans for two international tech hubs.

Read more on IT for government and public sector

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