Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

Lord Ashton of Hyde Excerpts
Wednesday 21st November 2018

(5 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made yesterday in the other place by my honourable friend the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a statement on the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The UK has a proud history of supporting the use of open data. Indeed, there has been a huge programme of work in recent years to make sure we are promoting the open and transparent use of data. The Government are in a privileged position, as we collect a vast quantity of high-quality data while delivering public services. As the UK moves rapidly towards a data-driven economy, we have an opportunity to improve decision-making in many areas.

The Government have already published over 44,000 datasets. This unprecedented openness has created many benefits. First, it has made the Government more accountable and transparent. Secondly, it can improve the effectiveness of public services. Thirdly, it has created the potential for new businesses to thrive. By making our data available to the public, we have been able to fuel businesses and applications that make life better and easier. All this has paid dividends.

We are now ranked joint first in the world on the open data barometer, an achievement of which we can justly be proud. While open data is something we must aspire to, we also need to use it in a safe and ethical manner. The rise of artificial intelligence-driven products and services have posed new questions that will impact on us all. What are the ethical implications of using technology to determine someone’s likelihood of reoffending?

Is it right to use a programme powered by AI to make hiring decisions? Can it ever be right to have an algorithm influence who should be saved in a car crash? These are no longer questions for science fiction but real questions that require clear and definite answers, where possible from policymakers. That is why we have established the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, because ethics and innovation are not mutually exclusive. Strong ethics can be a driver of innovation. It is our intention that the centre become a world-class advisory body to make sure that data and AI deliver the best possible outcomes for society, in support of their ethical and innovative use.

Following a consultation over the summer on the activities and work of the new centre, we are pleased to publish our response today. This is the first body of its kind to be established anywhere in the world and represents a landmark moment for data ethics in the UK and internationally. Throughout the consultation, respondents recognised the urgent need for the centre and there was widespread support for its objectives: to advise government on the necessary policy and regulatory action and to empower industry through the development of best practice.

In turn, we can build public trust in data-driven technologies and make the most of the opportunities they present for society. We have announced that Roger Taylor will chair the board. Roger has a background in consumer protection, founded Dr Foster—a healthcare data company—and is a passionate advocate for using data to improve lives. I know that he will do an excellent job. We have today announced the board members who will support Roger in this essential work. The board will include: Lord Winston, a world-renowned expert in fertility and genetics; Kriti Sharma, vice-president of AI at Sage and a leading global voice on data ethics; and Dame Patricia Hodgson, who was chair of Ofcom and brings a wealth of experience of regulatory affairs.

The board will bring together some of our greatest minds and their immense and varied experience to tackle these important issues. Data is the fuel of any digital economy, and trust in that data is fundamental. As a nation we have always been pioneers and advocates of transparency and freedom, and we will keep applying these values as we look at how we can make the most of the data that is multiplying in scale and sophistication.

The great challenge of the digital age is to ensure that data is used safely, ethically and, where possible, transparently. If we do that, we can help to power new technologies that will make life better and solve issues that are currently of grave concern. This is truly within our grasp and if we work together, we can make it happen.

I commend my Statement to the House”.

I follow the Statement by saying that I think the House will be pleased to know that, in addition to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, the board will include my noble friend Baroness Rock and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who were members of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

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Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. He was missed in the debate on Monday. I have had the benefit of reading the Government’s response to the consultation on the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. I share the enthusiasm for the centre’s creation, as did the Select Committee, and, now, for the clarification of the centre’s role, which will be very important in ensuring public trust in artificial intelligence. I am also enthusiastic about the appointments—described, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, as “stellar” in the Government’s own press release. In particular, I congratulate Members of this House and especially the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who contributed so much to our AI Select Committee. I am sure that both will keep the flame of our conclusions alive. I am delighted that we will also see a full strategy for the centre emerging early next year.

I too have a few questions for the Minister and I suspect that, in view of the number asked by me and by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, he will much prefer to write. Essentially, many of them relate to the relations between the very crowded landscape of regulatory bodies and the government departments involved.

Of course¸ the centre is an interim body. It will eventually be statutory but, as an independent body, where will the accountability lie? To which government department or body will it be accountable? Will it produce its own ethics framework for adoption across a wide range of sectors? Will it advocate such a framework internationally, and through what channels and institutions? Who will advise the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS on the use of health data in AI applications? Will it be the centre or the ICO, or indeed both? Will the study of bias, which has been announced by the centre, explore the development of audit mechanisms to identify and minimise bias in algorithms?

How will the centre carry out its function of advising the private sector on best practice, such as ethics codes and advisory boards? What links will there be with the Competition and Markets Authority over the question of data monopolies, which I know the Government and the CMA are both conscious of? In their consideration of data trust, will the government Office for Artificial Intelligence, which I see will be the responsible body, also look at the benefits of and incentives for hubs of all things? These are beginning to emerge as a very important way of protecting private data.

What links will there be with other government departments in giving advice on the application of AI and the use of datasets? The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, referred to lethal autonomous weapons, which emerged as a major issue in our debate on Monday. What kind of regular contact will there be with government departments—in particular, with the Ministry of Defence? One of the big concerns of the Select Committee was: what formal mechanisms for co-ordinating policy and action between the Office for Artificial Intelligence, the AI Council, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the ICO will there be? That needs to be resolved.

Finally, the centre will have a major role in all the above in its new studies of bias and micro-targeting, and therefore the big question is: will it be adequately resourced? What will its budget be? In the debate on Monday, I said that we need to ensure that we maintain the momentum in developing our national strategy, and this requires government to will the means.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I am tempted to say that I will write, but I will try to answer some of the questions, and I will write regarding some that I do not get around to. I was in at the beginning of the debate on AI and I listened to the noble Lord’s speech.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones
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My Lords, that is all that he needed to listen to.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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Not everyone would agree with that, but I did indeed listen to it. I have read that AI is a joint responsibility with BEIS, and my noble friend Lord Henley coped more than adequately, so I do not think that I really was missed.

There was a great deal of support for this innovation—the centre—both in the response to the consultation and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, in proceedings on the then Data Protection Bill, so I am grateful for that today, but I accept the very reasonable questions. On the centre’s independence as it stands now and its statutory establishment, I say that we have deliberately set this up as an advisory body so that it can consider some of the difficult issues that noble Lords have raised. Policy is the Government’s responsibility, so there should not be any confusion about who is held accountable for policy—and it is not the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. When this has been established, when we have seen how it has worked and when we have addressed the questions of the crowded space that both noble Lords mentioned, it is our intention to put this on a statutory basis. Then we will see how it has worked in practice. When it comes to putting it on a statutory basis, I have no doubt that there will be lots of back and forth in Committee and things like that on the exact definitions and its exact role.

There are some differences from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, although of course that was a particularly successful body. One of the main differences was that a lot of those things were considered in advance of the science, if you like, and before the science was put into place. With AI, it is here and now and operating, so we do not have a chance to sit back, think about it in theory and then come up with legislation or regulation. We are dealing with a moving target, so we want to get things going.

As far as I am aware—I will check and write to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—the centre has no specific powers to demand information. That is, of course, something that we can look at when it comes to being on a statutory basis.

I am sorry that the application for membership by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, was not accepted. There can be only one reason: he spends so much time on the Front Bench that he would not have time, because we expect the directors to spend two to three days a month attending this, so it is a very large work commitment.

As noble Lords will know, the work plan includes two initial projects, which were announced in last year’s Budget: micro-targeting and algorithm bias. We expect the centre, in discussion with the Secretary of State, to come up with a work plan by spring 2019. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, mentioned, there is a tension, if you like, between ethics and innovation, but we are very keen that it consider both because we have to be aware of the potential for innovation, which is constrained in some cases. We would not want a situation where the opportunities for AI for this country are avoided. As the report by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made clear, there are tremendous opportunities in this sector. We are aware of the tension, but it is a good tension for the centre to consider.

Both noble Lords talked about the crowded space in this area. We expect the centre to produce memorandums of understanding to outline how it relates to bodies such as the AI Council, which has a slightly different focus and is more about implementation of the AI sector deal than considering the ethics of artificial intelligence. We understand that they need to work together and expect the centre to come back on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about accountability. The centre will be accountable to the Secretary of State for the DCMS. That is clear. He will agree its work plan. Of course, in terms of independence, once he has established that work plan, what the centre says will not be up to him, so there is independence there. We included in our response that the Government will be expected to reply within six months, so there is a time limit on that. It will apply to all government departments, not just the DCMS. The Ministry of Defence and the department of health have obvious issues and the centre can provide advice to them as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked whether the centre, when it considers bias, would include audit mechanisms. It absolutely might. It is not really for us to say exactly what the centre will consider. In fact, that would be contrary to its independence, having been given the subject to think about. In our response we said some of the things that might be considered, such as audit mechanisms.

There is an obvious issue about competition, which the House of Lords Select Committee mentioned. Work is going on. The Chancellor commissioned the Furman review to look at that and we expect the centre to come up with a discussion on how it will work with the Competition and Markets Authority, but obviously competition is mainly to do with the Competitions and Markets Authority.

At the moment, the body is resourced by the DCMS. In the 2017 Budget, it was provided with £9 million in funding over three years. We expect that to be sufficient but, clearly, we will have to provide adequate resources to do an adequate job.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for the Statement and his responses. I am delighted that one of my successors as Bishop of Oxford has been appointed to the centre’s board. I know that with his experience and background he will make a very valuable contribution to it.

Is there an academic moral philosopher on the board? I ask as a former member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the HFEA. It was always thought valuable, particularly with the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, to have a philosopher or two on board. It is not that they will come up with a better answer than anybody else—their judgment is neither better nor worse than anybody else’s—but an academic philosopher can tease out unexamined assumptions. So many of these agreements and disagreements on ethics are about the assumptions that need to be teased out and looked at. I have not had a chance to look at the document yet, I am afraid, but perhaps I could ask that question.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I am glad to say that there will be. Professor Luciano Floridi is Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford—so another Oxford man.

Lord Maxton Portrait Lord Maxton (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not correct that the centre’s name is the wrong way round? It ought to be the advisory committee on digital innovation and ethics, because the innovation will drive the ethics rather than the other way round.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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The board of the centre will be able to cope with whichever way round the wording is. It will deal with the balance and the tensions between ethics and innovation—and indeed innovation and ethics.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Portrait Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve (CB)
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My Lords, yesterday evening the British-American Parliamentary Group and Ditchley met to discuss these topics. It was an interesting meeting, but it did reveal how readily innovation drives ethics. I say this as an academic philosopher, and it is quite important. The innovation questions are of great importance, but they are not the only questions, and I hope that steps will be taken to ensure that there is suitable rigour in the analysis of the ethical issues. The debate is full of pitfalls and inadequacies, including phrases such as “communication ethics” and “data ethics”, which ultimately mean nothing. Ethics is about what you do: it is not about data and communication. So I hope that there will be room for that sort of rigour on this advisory—and ultimately statutory—body.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde
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I completely agree with the noble Baroness. In dealing with modern technology, we often forget the very important point she makes. Ethics is about how you live your life and deal with things in a way that has a moral basis. I absolutely accept that, in dealing with modern technology and especially things such as AI, ethics is a very important component. That is precisely why they have also included not just technical people but parliamentarians and professional philosophers, to consider and to make sure that those aspects are given sufficient weight.