The Royal Statistical Society is one of the partners in a new, Nuffield Foundation-led £5m institute to examine ethical and social issues arising from the use of data, algorithms and artificial intelligence, and to ensure they are harnessed for social well-being.
Other partners in the Ada Lovelace Institute, named after the 19th century mathematician widely regarded as the first computer scientist, include the Alan Turing Institute, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society, the British Academy, techUK and Omidyar Network’s Governance & Citizen Engagement Initiative.
Developed in response to calls for an ethical framework and codes of practice regarding the use of rapidly developing new technologies, the Ada Lovelace Institute aims to complement the work of regulators and the government’s new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.
In a statement, the Institute sets out its aims as follows:
- Convene diverse voices to build a shared understanding of the ethical questions raised by the application of data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence
- Initiate research and build the evidence base on how these technologies affect society as a whole, and different groups within it
- Promote and support ethical practices that are deserving of public trust.
Dame Colette Bowe, trustee of the Nuffield Foundation and chair of the Banking Standards Board, explains further: 'Public scrutiny of the use of data and automated technologies only occurs when something "goes wrong". Valid questions are being asked about data rights, as well as about consent, public interest and what constitutes an ethical approach. The Ada Lovelace Institute will work with its partners to ensure we have these conversations before a critical incident, with the aim of developing codes of behaviour for the application of innovations of data and AI that are deserving of public trust.'
The Royal Statistical Society has long been calling for an independent council on data ethics through our Data Manifesto; we also suggested it to Parliament’s Science and Technology committee, who then recommended it in its 2016 Big Data Dilemma report. The Royal Society and British Academy jointly published a report in 2017 on data management governance.
Hetan Shah, RSS executive director, commented: 'The news just last week, of Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data, highlights the pressing need for a body such as this - to consider the big questions regarding the use of the public’s data.
We have been pleased to work with the Nuffield Foundation, from the very outset, on developing this new Institute. Indeed, the Royal Statistical Society has long been calling for an independent council on data ethics. So we warmly welcome today’s news and wish the Institute every success in its crucially important work.'
Hetan has written on the subject of data ethics and trust in Nature.
The chair of the Ada Lovelace Institute will be appointed within the next few months, with the aim of having the Institute fully established before the end of 2018.