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Front cover of the Artificial and Public Standards report
The Committee on Standards in Public Life published its report on artificial intelligence and its impact on public standards

A leading expert at the University of Birmingham has contributed to a major new report and recommendations outlining how clear standards of conduct and greater transparency will enable the UK public sector to reap the benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Professor Karen Yeung, Interdisciplinary Professorial Fellow in Law, Ethics and Informatics at the University of Birmingham’s Birmingham Law School and the School of Computer Science, was among the experts called upon by the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life to produce the report on Artificial Intelligence and Public Standards.

Professor Yeung played a pivotal part in the Committee’s work to gather evidence for its review, which has been presented 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.

Professor Yeung gave evidence on the lack of government transparency in its use of AI, particularly in policing and criminal justice.

In the report, Professor Yeung comments: “There is a serious lack of transparency and concomitant lack of accountability about how the police and other law enforcement agencies are already using these technologies.”

Professor Yeung also gave evidence on the issue of public bodies introducing AI into service delivery without a clear understanding of the requirements of the law.

In the report, Professor Yeung adds: “[It is] not adequate to employ technical legal arguments to ‘cobble together’ an ‘implicit’ lawful basis, given that power, scale and intrusiveness of these technologies create serious threats to the rights and freedoms of individuals, and to the collective foundations of our democratic freedoms.”

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.”

“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.

“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.”

Artificial Intelligence and Public Standards: report