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Government launches data trust programme

Digital secretary Jeremy Wright sets out plans for scheme using data sharing to tackle global challenges such as illegal wildlife trade and food waste

The government has announced funding for a data trust programme with the aim of utilising data exchanges to tackle a series of global challenges.

The data trust programme was first touted at the ODI Summit in November 2018, as the concept of data trusts was being explored by a partnership between the Government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence (AI) – a joint venture between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – and the Open Data Institute (ODI).

The aim of the data trusts is to create a system of data pooling between organisations – government departments and private entities – which will allow them to share data in a safe, fair and ethical way.

The government plans to invest up to £30m in the programme, through a partnership with the Social Tech Trust, aiming to establish the UK as a global leader in tech for social good.

Initially, the government will invest £700,000 into initiatives aiming to tackle illegal wildlife trade and reduce food waste.

Announcing the plans, digital secretary Jeremy Wright said technology had already made “our lives easier in many ways” but there was still a deal of “untapped potential that we can deliver for social good”.

“As a world leader in emerging technologies, the UK is best placed to foster these opportunities. The policies announced today, backed by new funding, will encourage industry to deliver technological innovation to address issues as diverse as animal poaching, food waste and loneliness.”

The illegal wildlife project will be run as a partnership between conservation charities, the Wildlabs Tech Hub and technology experts, with the aim of reducing illegal wildlife trade through sharing of image data to assist border control officers in identifying illegal animal products using their smartphones.

The project is also looking at using audio data to train algorithms to detect gunshots or the sound of illegal fishing vessels, which can then ping real-time alerts to rangers who will know exactly where to target.

Wildlabs Tech Hub’s Sophie Maxwell said technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) had “the potential to revolutionise wildlife conservation and strengthen the technological tools needed to end wildlife crime”.

“To harness this opportunity, however, we need to be able to distribute large-scale, well-curated datasets to machine learning experts,” she added.

Another project receiving funding is an initiative by Wrap, which aims to reduce food waste through tracking and measuring the waste, passing savings on to consumers and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water usage.

Another of the key pilots for the programme is a project run by the ODI and the the Royal Borough of Greenwich, focusing on collecting real-time data from internet of things (IoT) sensors and sharing it with innovators in the technology sector so they can come up with solutions to challenges in the urban environment. The Greenwich pilot is funded by Innovate UK through the ODI’s research and development programme.

The government will also make £1m available for projects using technology to help tackle loneliness and bring communities together.

Read more about IT for social good

  • Wildlife charity Wildscreen explains how Virtus Data Centres is helping it spread the word online about the importance of conservation.
  • The foreign secretary wants the country’s “finest technological brains” to help combat poaching and save endangered species.
  • Despite today’s abundance of data, most of it remains locked in silos, meaning new governance structures are needed to open it up and unlock its potential value to society.


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