UK at risk of losing out on the rewards of AI and data-driven technology, finds first-of-its-kind analysis from the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

The CDEI, the UK’s independent advisory body on the responsible use of AI, has said that the UK needs to ramp up efforts to address barriers to innovation if it is to benefit from recent breakthroughs in AI. 

The analysis, which reflects the findings of a major survey of experts, finds that AI and data-driven technology present concrete ‘game changing’ opportunities through the potential for: operating an efficient green energy grid; identifying and tracking public health risks; tackling misinformation; and using automated decision support systems in health, finance and criminal justice to minimise bias. It finds, however, that these opportunities have common characteristics which make them challenging to realise, such as requiring coordination across organisations and affecting decisions that have a direct and substantial impact on people’s lives. 

The AI Barometer identifies several barriers to the responsible adoption of AI and data-driven technology, among them a lack of funding for innovation projects and a dearth of technical skills to power new initiatives. While many of these issues are widely acknowledged, the CDEI highlights several barriers that are often overlooked, including: low data quality and availability; a lack of coordinated regulation; and a lack of transparency around how AI and data are being used. 

In its AI Barometer, the CDEI cautions that these barriers feed public mistrust, which acts a further brake on innovation. It highlights that, in the absence of trust, consumers are unlikely to use new technologies or share the data needed to build them, while industry will be unwilling to engage in new innovation programmes for fear of meeting opposition.

The analysis also looked at the risks arising from the use of this technology. Experts in most sectors ranked the following issues as concerning: algorithmic bias; a lack of explainability in algorithmic decision-making; and the failure of those operating technology to seek meaningful consent from people to collect, use and share their data. 

The CDEI will expand the AI Barometer over the next twelve months and will launch a new work programme that will act on its findings.  

Roger Taylor, Chair of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, said: “AI and data-driven technology has the potential to address the biggest societal challenges of our time, from climate change to caring for an ageing society. However, the responsible adoption of technology is stymied by several barriers, among them low data quality and governance challenges, which undermine public trust in the institutions that they depend on. As we have seen in the response to COVID-19, confidence that government, public bodies and private companies can be trusted to use data for our benefit is essential if we are to maximise the benefits of these technologies. Now is the time for these barriers to be addressed, with a coordinated national response, so that we can pave the way for responsible innovation.” 

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