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Putting the UK at the forefront of ethics and innovation in AI and data

The announcement of high-profile members of the UK's Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is another step for the government's commitment to be a global leader in AI, says secretary of state

Big data is driving today’s digital revolution and bringing huge improvements for our economy and society.

Millions of people can now access real-time travel data on their smartphones allowing them to find the cheapest holiday deals and navigate cities with ease. Stellar British firms are using artificial intelligence (AI) to help defend against cyber attacks and law firms are adopting the technology to help lawyers do legal searches and draft documentation.

But we know the huge rise in the use of data-driven technology must be backed up by a strong ethical framework so it delivers the best for people.

We need to be able to trust our data is being used in a safe, fair and ethical way to allow entrepreneurs and inventors to push the boundaries of innovation and open up new areas where AI could spark a huge wave of enterprise.

Data ethics

Today (20 November), I’ll address the Open Data Institute’s annual summit. The ODI is a world-renowned non-profit organisation founded by some of the most influential British internet pioneers, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt. Its mission is to connect, equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with data.

Organisations such as the ODI are part of the UK’s rich tech ecosystem which sets us apart in Europe as the place to do business in this field.

As we launch our Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation we are bringing together some of the world’s greatest global minds in science and technology to maximise the potential of these future technologies.

The centre, working with other leading experts including academics, regulators, business leaders and consumer bodies, will help us tackle big questions on how technology will affect our lives and pave the way for innovation. It is a world-first and positions the UK at the forefront of the development of AI.

The board includes a Bafta-winning broadcaster and world-renowned expert in fertility and genetics; the vice president of AI at Sage; and the former chair of Ofcom with a wealth of experience about regulatory affairs. They will work alongside the centre’s chair, Roger Taylor.

Its first projects will explore the use of data in shaping people’s online experiences and investigating the potential for bias in decisions made using algorithms.

Office for AI

We have also established an Office for AI – a joint unit between the departments for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) – which will work with the ODI to run a series of pilot “data trusts” to enable data sharing between organisations to solve common problems and bring economic and societal benefit.

These will help us explore how open data can help organisations join forces to solve some of our biggest problems such as food waste, flood risk and animal poaching.

Making the most of data will be vital if we are going to build on our status as Europe’s leading tech hub and achieve our ambition of making the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.

Recent statistics show we are creating more tech-driven billion-dollar “unicorn” businesses than our European neighbours and our digital economy is worth more than £116.5bn.

We are the number one country in Europe for investment in tech with venture capital investment in the UK last year breaking records at more than £6bn – more than Germany, France and Sweden combined.

Industrial Strategy

Global tech investors look to the UK because of our thriving startup scene, flexible regulatory system, world-class research base, as well as our skills, geographical location and because the world speaks and codes in our language.

In government we have put pioneering technologies at the heart of our modern Industrial Strategy, with a £1bn AI Sector Deal agreed with industry, which includes more than £300m of government funding for AI research.

To drive forward this work we are establishing an AI Council, chaired by CognitionX co-founder Tabitha Goldstaub, to oversee implementation of the AI Sector Deal, promote industry-to-industry cooperation, boost the understanding of AI in the business world, and identify barriers to growth.

The world is changing fast but we are working hard to stay ahead of the curve. Our Centre for Data Ethics is a vital part of making sure we have the expertise and framework in place achieve our aims.

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