Set up by the government in 2018, the CDEI has a unique remit: to help the UK navigate the ethical challenges presented by AI and data-driven technology. We are led by an independent board of experts from across industry, civil society, academia and government. CDEI publications do not represent government policy or advice.
What is the AI Barometer?
The CDEI’s AI Barometer is a major analysis of the most pressing opportunities, risks, and governance challenges associated with AI and data use in the UK. The first iteration of the AI Barometer covers five sectors including: Criminal Justice; Financial Services; Health & Social Care; Digital & Social Media; and Energy & Utilities. Over 120 experts, from industry, academia, civil society and government, took part in workshops and scoring exercises to produce a community view of these factors.
Why has the CDEI produced this analysis?
The current age of data-driven technology is unlike anything we have seen before. Large-scale technological change is occurring at an unprecedented pace, which the global response to COVID-19 has only accelerated, with far-reaching implications across all aspects of our lives. It comes accompanied by an overwhelming volume of commentary and claims, for which the evidence - and extent of sensationalism - can often be unclear. In the face of this, it can be difficult to discern which issues most require our attention. The AI Barometer seeks to clarify the debate, helping policymakers, regulators and other decision makers, and the CDEI itself, to identify opportunities and risks arising from the use of AI and data-driven technology, as well as gaps in our national response.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how these sectors use AI and data?
The urgency of knowing that we can safely and effectively deploy new data-driven technologies has been demonstrated in a tragic and global way by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re seeing the ‘leapfrogged’ adoption of AI and data-driven technologies, at scales and in contexts where they may have otherwise taken greater time to penetrate. Meanwhile, data-sharing and use across the public sector is at a new high-watermark, and responses to the crisis have seen the rapid integration of technology platforms into public services, particularly at the national level. Given this backdrop, the need for a system wide view of AI and data use in the UK is greater than ever before.
What are the key findings?
- The AI Barometer highlights the potential for AI and data-driven technology to address society’s greatest challenges. However, our analysis suggests we have only begun to tap into the potential of this technology, for example in improving content moderation on social media, supporting clinical diagnosis in healthcare, and detecting fraud in financial services. Even those sectors that are mature in their adoption of digital technology (e.g. the finance and insurance industry) have yet to maximise the benefits of AI and data use. Concern about the underuse of AI and data-driven technology was particularly prevalent among experts in the Energy & Utilities sector, reflecting the contribution that technology could have in meeting ambitious goals such as net zero emission targets.
- Some opportunities are easier to realise than others. ‘Easier to achieve’ innovations tend to involve the use of AI and data to free up time for professional judgement, improve back-office efficiency and enhance customer service. ‘Harder to achieve’ innovations, in contrast, involve the use of AI and data in high stakes domains that often require difficult trade-offs (e.g. police forces seeking to use facial recognition must carefully balance the public’s desire for greater security with the need to protect people’s privacy). These ‘harder to achieve’ opportunities are unlikely to be realised without a coordinated national response.
- Alongside looking at opportunities, our panellists were asked to rank a series of risk statements according to their impact and likelihood. Some of their judgements were to be expected, for example with technologically-driven misinformation scoring highly in healthcare. Yet the scoring exercise also brought to the surface risks that are less prominent in media and policy discussions, for instance the differences between how data is collected and used in healthcare and social care, and how that limits technological benefits in the latter setting.
- While the top-rated risks varied from sector to sector, a number of concerns cropped up across most of the contexts we examined. This includes the risks of 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. This highlights the value of cross-sector research and interventions.
- Several barriers stand in the way of addressing these risks and maximising the benefits of AI and data. These range from market disincentives (e.g. social media firms may fear a loss of profits if they take action to mitigate disinformation) to regulatory confusion (e.g. oversight of new technologies like facial recognition can fall between the gaps of regulators).
- While many of these barriers are daunting, they are far from intractable. Incentives, rules and cultural change can all be marshalled to address them. The AI Barometer highlights examples of promising interventions from regulators, researchers and industry, which could pave the way for more responsible innovation.
- Three types of barrier merit closer attention: low data quality and availability; a lack of coordinated policy and practice; and a lack of transparency around AI and data use. Each contributes to a more fundamental brake on innovation – public distrust. 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.
Over the coming months, the CDEI will promote the findings of the AI Barometer to policymakers and other decision-makers across industry, regulation and research. We hope the AI Barometer will inform their agendas, directing them to look at the most pressing issues of AI and data use as identified by our expert panels. We will encourage them to look not just at addressing the hazards posed by this technology, be it misinformation or cybersecurity threats, but also to champion new innovations that can improve our public services, bolster our economy and help people lead more fulfilling lives.
The AI Barometer will also play a role in shaping our future strategy. The CDEI is embarking on a new programme of work that will address many of the barriers to responsible innovation as they arise in different settings, from policing, to the workplace, to social media platforms. In doing so, we will work with partners in both the public and private sectors to ensure that the sum of our efforts are greater than their individual parts.