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Jeremy Wright announces Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation board

Secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright, announces make up of Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation board at ODI Summit

Jeremy Wright, the digital secretary, will announce on 20 November the make-up of the board of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation at the Open Data Institute annual summit.

As Computer Weekly reported at a TechUK “Smarter State” event in September, Sue Owen, permanent secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had highlighted the putting together of the Centre’s board. At that time, she acknowledged public concerns about the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI) and the ethical use of data.

“We do need good governance in place, so we have established a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, with Roger Taylor, cofounder of Dr Foster, a provider of healthcare data management and analysis, as the chair,” she said.

She said that DCMS was in the final stages of assembling a multidisciplinary board – including lawyers, philosophers, data scientists, religious leaders and economists – to advise the centre.

The DCMS has now announced that Jeremy Wright has appointed eleven people to serve as the board for the centre, including Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, and chairman of the Genesis Research Trust; Patricia Hodgson, former chair of Ofcom, and non-executive member of the Competition Commission; Luciano Floridi, professor of philosophy and ethics of information at Oxford University and director of the Digital Ethics Lab, Oxford Internet Institute; and Kriti Sharma, vice-president of artificial intelligence at Sage Group.

Board appointments are from two years from 26 November 2018.  

Board member Kriti Sharma said in a DCMS-issued statement: “I’m delighted to be appointed to the board and can’t wait to get started. Augmenting human skills with ethically designed, data-driven technology has the potential to help business thrive like never before. Effective use can bring enormous benefits and improve people’s lives – saving them time, resources and enabling them to become more productive.  

“The centre will play a key role in making sure we have an environment which supports ethical innovation and will position the UK as a world leader in the development of AI.”

Data and AI niche for UK

Earlier this year, a House of Lords select committee report on the impact of artificial intelligence on the UK’s economy and society identified ethics as a niche for the country to exercise a comparative advantage on a global scale.

The ethics centre’s remit, according to the DCMS statement, is to “anticipate gaps in the governance landscape, agree and set out best practice to guide ethical and innovative uses of data, and advise government on the need for specific policy or regulatory action”.

The department also announced that the government will publish its formal response to a consultation on the role and objectives of the new centre. Its first projects will explore the use of data in shaping people’s online experiences, and it will “investigate the potential for bias in decisions made using algorithms”.

Wright said in a statement: “We are a world-leader in artificial intelligence and our modern Industrial Strategy puts pioneering technologies at the heart of our plans to build a Britain which is fit for the future.

“But it is crucial that the public have confidence it is being used to improve people’s lives and we have the right expertise and framework in place to maximise its potential.

“I am pleased we have secured global leaders from academia and industry to work alongside us as we develop the world’s first Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.”

Roger Taylor, chair for the centre, added: “It is vital powerful data-driven technologies such as artificial intelligence are deployed in the interests of society while supporting innovation. I look forward to working closely with my new board members to develop our work plan and to prioritise the issues we need to consider.”

Wright will also confirm the Government’s Office for AI – a joint unit between DCMS and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – will now work with the Open Data Institute to explore the potential of “data trusts”.

A data trust will, it is said, “allow two or more organisations to share data in a safe, fair and ethical way so they can work together to tackle problems such as recycling, food waste or speeding up construction projects. This may be a local council sharing data on food recycling with a startup firm”.

Jeni Tennison, CEO at the Open Data Institute, said: “At the ODI, we believe everyone should get the best value from today’s abundance of data. We welcome the launch of the UK’s new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and look forward to working closely with Roger and his team to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem.  

“Our work across the world has highlighted that, alongside getting value from data, we need to retain trust in how it is used and shared. Data trusts are a potential new way to help realise the benefits of data while preventing any harmful impacts. We’re delighted to be exploring them further with the Office for AI to find out where they might be useful.”

Greg Clark, the business secretary, added: “Given the pace with which the industry is evolving, we must ensure that it continues to be used as a force for good, especially where it involves personal data. That is why I announced the establishment of the world’s first Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation as part of our modern Industrial Strategy.  I’m pleased that such esteemed individuals, leaders in their fields, will be taking forward this important work.”

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