Government to investigate potential bias in algorithm-based systems

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(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The potential for bias in algorithms that could be used in local government and the justice system is to be investigated by a government advisory body.

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) is to examine the risk of human bias which could influence the data used to help algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) make decisions, the Government has announced.

It will work with the Cabinet Office’s race disparity unit as part of its investigation.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said the safe use of technology was a crucial part of its development within different industries.

“Technology is a force for good and continues to improve people’s lives but we must make sure it is developed in a safe and secure way,” he said.

“Our Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has been set up to help us achieve this aim and keep Britain at the forefront of technological development.

“I’m pleased its team of experts is undertaking an investigation into the potential for bias in algorithmic decision-making in areas including crime, justice and financial services.

“I look forward to seeing the centre’s future recommendations to help make sure we maximise the benefits of these powerful technologies for society.”

The CDEI said algorithms could be used to help make decisions in sectors such as recruitment and financial services, but an investigation is needed to improve the transparency and fairness of such decisions.

It suggests that AI could be used to screen CVs and shortlist candidates in recruitment, but warns of existing reports which have suggested such technology has inadvertently exacerbated gender bias.

Roger Taylor, chairman of the CDEI said: “The centre is focused on addressing the greatest challenges and opportunities posed by data-driven technology.

“These are complex issues and we will need to take advantage of the expertise that exists across the UK and beyond.

“If we get this right, the UK can be the global leader in responsible innovation.

“We want to work with organisations so they can maximise the benefits of data-driven technology and use it to ensure the decisions they make are fair.

“As a first step, we will be exploring the potential for bias in key sectors where the decisions made by algorithms can have a big impact on people’s lives.

“I am delighted that the centre is today publishing its strategy setting out our priorities.”

Artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly prominent in everyday life and is already built into most modern smartphones as well as powering smart assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

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