When Alan Turing proposed the Turing Machine and his theory of machine intelligence, he would not have imagined that his early ideas of computing and algorithms would be enhanced and evolved using the quintillions of bytes of data we generate today.
This explosion of data has a profound and positive – socially, in work, in public services and in life.
Turing’s work on enigma during the war, working with Bill Tutte who remained less recognised, is a piece of history we are all familiar with. But some of Turing’s most influential research came later, in artificial intelligence.
When Turing devised the Turing Test, to determine whether a computer was human or not, the idea of machines thinking and working for themselves was in something which may have seemed like science fiction.
But we have come to expect Siri to tell us about delays on the Jubilee line, for Google to translate a webpage automatically, or to use an automated till at the checkout.
Now there are those that worry that technological change will make us worse off, that automation raises the prospect of mass unemployment. Machines will take over all our jobs, and there will be nothing left for humans to do.
We’ve heard this before - from the Luddites to Keynes to Harold Wilson, history is littered with those predicting the end of work. And history has proved them wrong every time.
Technological progress does not remove the need for human endeavour. There is no fixed amount of work to be done.
Technology improves productivity and reduces costs, allowing people to spend more on other things, in turn creating new jobs.
The trick is not to hold back the machines, but to harness their power.
We should celebrate the fact that technology can replace, and in some cases improve, administrative tasks, freeing us humans up to focus on what we’re best at, using our creative skills to iterate and improve services.
But transformation is disruptive, and it’s understandable people worry.
As a government we must support them, making sure we provide all the support people need.
And this support is well worth it. Because the increasing use of data, digital services and automation provides citizens with a huge opportunity if we manage it properly.
For government it gives the chance to improve the services we provide by making them more efficient, accurate and suited to citizens’ needs. Data helps us better serve citizens.
Across government we are working hard to ensure data and data-science techniques are put to good use; improving data quality and security through canonical registers, integrating data into digital services; and using cutting edge data science techniques to improve government policy and services.
For example, using the thousands of feedback comments we receive on our digital services to predict prominent problems or peaks in demand.
Data science advancement
Using social media posts about sickness in the local area to predict where norovirus might next strike ahead of medical lab reports. Or harnessing blockchain technology to follow the use of money given on behalf of taxpayers in grants.
Our Digital Economy Bill, set out by Her Majesty yesterday, will help us unlock more advances.
But the technology is only part of the overall solution. Digital transformation has no meaning or real world effect unless it is the driver for business transformation, of changes in culture.
To get that right, advances in data science must be made in a strong framework that is protective of privacy and reassuring to the public.
The Bill will allow more modern use of data, to improve services or tackle fraud. And it will do this within a strong framework of data protection and protection of personal information.
It is vital we seize the opportunities that data science presents. The biggest risk would be to do nothing and to miss out on the enormous potential to improve the lives of our citizens.
Privacy or cyber security are nothing without reliable verification of identity. So I’m delighted to announce that GOV.UK Verify has passed its service assessment and will go live next week.
Verify allows secure and straightforward identity checking without the need for an identity database - and underpins the digital transformation of government and I want to thank the Verify team for their innovative, determined and dedicated work.
Now with these safeguards we want to unlock the progressive power of data science to improve lives.
And we want people in government to feel confident using new techniques. This means setting out clear guidance that brings together the relevant laws and best practice, gives data scientists and their teams robust principles to work with. It is all about encouraging new and innovative ways to better solve problems and deliver.
So today we are launching our new Data Science Ethical Framework, setting out in one place our framework for using data. It will help people using data to ask the right questions and take appropriate steps.
Today’s publication is a first version developed across government,civil society, industry and academic partners.
We aren’t saying that it is a finished article. Today we ask for your help to iterate the framework to keep abreast of the changing landscape and developments and ensure it is a document that continues to work.
Technology is constantly changing, new techniques constantly invented. These offer huge opportunities to improve lives, to create jobs, to connect better the citizens and the state. We must be at the forefront of this change, secure yet ambitious, else we will count the cost.
The opportunities are greater than Alan Turing could have imagined, all those years ago. Let us seize them, to improve the lives of the citizens we serve.