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Artificial Intelligence Ethics, Jobs & Trust – UK Government Sets Out AI future

CBR looks at the 'Artificial intelligence: an overview for policy-makers' report from the Government Office for Science.

By Ellie Burns

The UK government is driving the artificial intelligence agenda, pinpointing it as a future technology driving the fourth revolution and billing its importance on par with the steam engine.

The report on Artificial Intelligence by the Government Office for Science follows the recent House of Commons Committee report on Robotics and AI, setting out the opportunities and implications for the future of decision making. In a report which spans government deployment, ethics and the labour market, Digital Minister Matt Hancock provided a foreword which pushed AI as a technology which would benefit the economy and UK citizens.

“As one the world’s leading digital nations, artificial intelligence presents a huge opportunity for the UK. Get this right, and we can create a more prosperous economy with better and more fulfilling jobs,” Mr Hancock wrote in the report.

“We can protect our environment by using resources more efficiently. And we can make government smarter, using the power of data to improve our public services.”

“Artificial intelligence also poses new questions about ethics and governance, the responsible use of data and strong cyber defences. To realise the full potential of this revolution, again we have to be ready with answers.”

CBR looks at the findings of the report and sets out 4 key take-aways.


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Government AI

Government is already trying to reap the benefits of artificial intelligence, using techniques like machine learning in work for the Government Data Programme. The report was clear that the government, as opposed to private companies, has the unique responsibility of needing to be transparent, follow due process and be accountable to UK citizens. The report sets out possible areas where AI benefits may be realised in the public sector:

parliment“Make existing services – such as health, social care, emergency services – more efficient by anticipating demand and tailoring services more exactly, enabling resources to be deployed to greatest effect.

• Make it easier for officials to use more data to inform decisions (through quickly accessing relevant information) and to reduce fraud and error.

• Make decisions more transparent (perhaps through capturing digital records of the process behind them, or by visualising the data that underpins a decision).

• Help departments better understand the groups they serve, in order to be sure that the right support and opportunity is offered to everyone.”


 Public Trust

The report draws on the key point that for AI to succeed and be used productively, it must be trusted. The report presents that a must-take approach in instilling trust in AI is public dialogue, pointing to already deployed methods in starting the AI conversation with the public.

“Work is already underway to engage with the public and understand public attitudes to some of these issues, though further work will build on this. Ipsos MORI have conducted two public engagement pieces in this field – one on machine learning and another on data science more generally, conducted in partnership with government and Sciencewise.”

Businessman tearing up sign saying trust concept for infidelity, dishonesty and cheating

The report sets out a number of key issues which must be debated and talked about with the public – all with the end game of building trust in AI. The issues which public debate needs to explore were listed as:

• how to treat different mistakes made through the use of artificial intelligence,

• how best to understand probabilistic decision-making, and

• the extent to which we should trust decisions made without artificial intelligence, or against the advice of artificial intelligence systems.

Trust, however, will reply on AI being able to demonstrate benefits to the public, alongside working safeguards. The report said:

“In the end, public trust will be maintained through demonstrating that the technology is beneficial and that safeguards work. This will require, at a minimum:

• Correctly identifying any harmful impacts of artificial intelligence.

• Formal structures and processes that enable citizen recourse to function as intended.

• Appropriate means of redress.

• Clear accountability.

• Clearly communicating the substantial benefits for society offered by artificial intelligence.”



The report highlighted the many ethical issues surrounding AI, noting that the ethics regarding the technology are subject of much debate in recent times. The report draws on the unjust stereotyping of people stemming from profiling and algorithmic bias – techniques used to predict the likely actions of different groups. In addition to this, the report also draws focus to how AI can make it “possible to infer some kinds of private information from public data, such as the online behaviour of an individual or others linked to them.”

ethicsAs an area of hot debate which offers no clear answers, the report did press the need for accountability in the uncharted waters of liability and negligence.

“Despite current uncertainty over the nature of responsibility for choices informed by artificial intelligence, there will need to be clear lines of accountability. It may be thought necessary for a chief executive or senior stakeholder to be held ultimately accountable for the decisions made by algorithms. Without a measure of this sort it is unlikely that trust in the use of artificial intelligence could be maintained. Doing this may encourage or indeed require the development of new forms of liability insurance as a necessary condition of using artificial intelligence – at least in sensitive domains.”

Ultimately, the ethics concerning the use of AI is still up for debate and, according to the report; “All of them merit further consideration and review.”


Automation & Jobs

The report was clear that AI and automation will have a significant impact on the labour market. Another area of much debate, the report noted how the jobs most at risk of being displaced were manual and service sector jobs, putting emphasis on the change in skills needed and arguing that jobs will not disappear, only change.

“It is likely that automation will change the types of jobs that people do and the types of skills that they need. Evidence suggests increased automation will threaten both routine manual jobs, and routine cognitive roles. Indeed, technology, coupled with trade, has already increased the proportion of high-skilled jobs and reduced the proportion of lower-middle skilled jobs.”

Word of job and scissors, concept of Jobs Cut

The report did place some responsibility at the government’s feet in regards to facilitating retraining and getting workers on board with AI. However, the report imagines a future where 20 year tenures are a rarity and flexibility is key.

“More widely, it is likely that technological change could mean that job-specific skills may perish more quickly and people may change jobs more frequently. This emphasises the need for reskilling over the course of a career and the need to be pro-active, open to change and resilient. It also means that ‘general purpose’ skills, like problem solving and mental flexibility, that are transferrable across different domains could be increasingly valuable.”


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