Why the AI revolution needs its own government overseer

SUMMARY:

A UK cross-political party group has produced some interesting and compelling recommendations around AI policy that could be usefully adapted at home and internationally.

Stephen Metcalfe MP

In 2017 legislators and policy makers around the world have become more and more interested in the societal and economic implications of the AI revolution, resulting in a myriad of programs to explore the consequences and come up with recommendations.

One such group, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence (APPG AI),  has just presented its first findings and they’re commendably concise – summed up by the report’s title of ‘1 Key Recommendation, 6 Policy Focus Areas‘.

The APPG AI was set up in January of this year as a non-partisan group with members from across the spectrum of the UK political establishment, under the co-chairmanship of Stephen Metcalfe MP (Conservative) and Lord Clement-Jones (Liberal Democrat).

The Key Recommendation is a simple one – and given the accepted impact of AI on the global economy, let alone a post-Brexit (maybe) one, a blinding obvious one. Simply put, there needs to be a Minister for AI who sits within the Cabinet Office.

Given that at present digital responsibilties are scattered around a group of individuals in both the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, one more in the mix isn’t going to complicate matters and would provide some very much needed dedicated focus on the development of AI policy.

Such a Minister would have 5 job objectives, suggests the AAG AI:

  • To bring forward the roadmap which will turn AI from a Grand Challenge to a tool for untapping UK’s economic and social potential across the UK.
  • To lead the steering and coordination of: a new Government Office for AI, a new industry-led AI Council, a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, a new GovTech Catalyst, a new Future Sectors Team, and a new Tech Nation (an expansion of Tech City UK).
  • To oversee and champion the implementation and deployment of AI across government and the UK.
  • To keep public faith high in these emerging technologies.
  • To ensure the UK’s global competitiveness as a leader in developing AI technologies and capitalising on their benefits.

The work of the AI Minister would be built around the Six Policy Focus Areas of the report’s title. These are:

Data – tackling the AI/Data co-dependency issues

  • Create a National Data that clearly defines how data can be used and reused and shifts data protection policy towards opening up and releaseing data, while creating incentives for responsibly and purposeful data use.
  • Position the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovations as a stewardship body for governance, while making Data Trusts across the UK responsible for public awareness and trust.
  • Make the public sector a lead users in Big Data and data analytics.
  • Open up private sector data to the public sector.
  • Commission a program of research into data protection legislative regimes.

Infrastructure – putting the backbone in place

  • Commit to Universal Basic Infrastructure across the UK, including access to 5G.
  • Update the National Cyber-Security Strategy.
  • Establish a firm target date for the UK to complete roll-out of an AI-supportive infrastructure, with 2025 suggested as a finishing point for a basic version.

Skills – training up the AI generation

  • Expand the skills elements of the Industrial Strategy.
  • Put AI into the educational curriculums at all levels.
  • The National Re-training Scheme should offer specialised courses for data management.
  • Up-skill teachers to be able to teach GCSE Computer Science within 5 years.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship – ending the ‘brain drain’

  • Incentivise SMBs to invest in AI tech.
  • Provide Innovate UK with mandate to support funding and investment in emerging tech.
  • Invest in high growth companies with strong Intellectual Property assests.
  • Educate companies on how to present intangible assets better.

Trade – the shift from e-commerce to AI-commerce

  • Create and curate a bank of best practice use cases for companies to emulate.
  • Set up an AI-specialised trade body to push UK AI-enabled tech.
  • Commission research into taxation regimes to break down barriers to international trade.

Accountablity – encouraging algorithmic transparency

  • Organisations must be held accountable for decisions made by algorithms that they use.
  • A standard needs to be set for monitoring and keeping clear records of decision-making.
  • AI auditing mechanisms need to be in place to act as a watchdog.
  • Incentivise organisations to set up corporate Ethics Boards.
  • Encourage setting-up of an international Forum on AI Global Governance.

My take

It’s hard to find fault in any of this. I’ve become increasingly concerned at the lack of centralised focus around digital adoption in UK government circles, never mind the lacklustre performance of some of those charged with delivering it. There’s more to having a solid, workable digital strategy than re-hashing the same old BT-friendly cliches about mythical broadband speeds.

The AI revolution is going to be enormous and it demands the concentrated attention of a dedicated legislatator at the top of government. This is a UK-centric report of course, but I’d suggest the basic recommendations are ones that have applicability across other government regimes worldwide. The question is whether those others will put them, or some avatar of them, into practice before a Brexit-distracted UK government does so.

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