Press release

Artificial Intelligence and Public Standards: Committee publishes report

The Committee on Standards in Public Life today published its report on artificial intelligence and its impact on public standards.

Clear standards of conduct and greater transparency will enable UK public sector to reap the benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

New report by independent Committee on Standards in Public Life

The Committee on Standards in Public Life today published its report and recommendations to the Prime Minister to ensure that high standards of conduct are upheld as technologically assisted decision making is adopted more widely across the public sector.

The Committee also published new polling on public attitudes to AI.

Jonathan Evans, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life said:

“Honesty, integrity, objectivity, openness, leadership, selflessness and accountability were first outlined by Lord Nolan as the standards expected of all those who act on the public’s behalf.

“Artificial intelligence – and in particular, machine learning – will transform the way public sector organisations make decisions and deliver public services. Demonstrating high standards will help realise the huge potential benefits of AI in public service delivery. However, it is clear that the public need greater reassurance about the use of AI in the public sector.

“Public sector organisations are not sufficiently transparent about their use of AI and it is too difficult to find out where machine learning is currently being used in government.

“Explanations for decisions made by machine learning are important for public accountability. Explainable AI is a realistic and attainable goal for the public sector - so long as public sector organisations and private companies prioritise public standards when they are designing and building AI systems.”

Data bias remains a serious concern. Further work is needed on measuring and mitigating the impact of bias to prevent discrimination via algorithm in public services.

“Our message to government is that the UK’s regulatory and governance framework for AI in the public sector remains a work in progress and deficiencies are notable. The work of the Office for AI, the Alan Turing Institute, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) are all commendable. But on transparency and data bias in particular, there is an urgent need for practical guidance and enforceable regulation.

“We conclude that the UK does not need a new AI regulator, but that all regulators must adapt to the challenges that AI poses to their specific sectors. We endorse the government’s intentions to establish CDEI as an independent, statutory body that will advise government and regulators in this area.

“All public bodies using AI to deliver frontline services must comply with the law surrounding data-driven technology and implement clear, risk-based governance for their use of AI. Government should use its purchasing power in the market to set procurement requirements that ensure that private companies developing AI solutions for the public sector appropriately address public standards.

“This new technology is a fast-moving field, so government and regulators will need to act swiftly to keep up with the pace of innovation. By ensuring that AI is subject to appropriate safeguards and regulations, the public can have confidence that new technologies will be used in a way that upholds the Seven Principles of Public Life as the public sector transitions into a new AI-enabled age. Ends//

Notes to Editors

  1. Interview requests and media enquiries should go to Maggie O’Boyle on 07880 740627.
  2. The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life advises the Prime Minister on ethical standards across the whole of public life in the UK. It monitors and reports on issues relating to the standards of conduct of all public office holders. To find out more about the Committee’s work click here.
  3. The current members of the Committee are: Lord (Jonathan) Evans KCB DL, Chairman, Rt Hon Dame Margaret Beckett DBE MP (Labour), Dr Jane Martin CBE, Dame Shirley Pearce DBE, Jane Ramsey, Monisha Shah, Rt Hon Lord (Andrew) Stunell OBE (Liberal Democrat) and Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP (Conservative)
  4. You can follow the Committee on twitter @PublicStandards.
  5. The Committee announced its review of AI and Public Standards in March 2019 and collected a wide range of evidence, meetings with experts in the field from government, academia, and the public and private sectors, holding round table discussions and attending external conferences and workshops. The Committee is indebted to all those who contributed.
Published 10 February 2020