Algorithms: Public Sector Decision-making - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:26 pm on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Warwick Lord Taylor of Warwick Non-affiliated 7:26 pm, 12th February 2020

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for securing this timely and important debate. It is over only the last 20 years that we have seen the meteoric growth of artificial intelligence. When I was discussing this with a friend of mine, his response was: “What, only 20 years? I’ve got socks older than that.” That is probably too much information—I accept that—but there is no doubt that the use of this kind of AI-driven data is still very new.

The use of such technologies was still the stuff of science fiction when I was first elected as a district councillor in the West Midlands. When I was chancellor of Bournemouth University, the impact of data analytics was very apparent to me. It was my privilege in 1996 to present the Bill that established the use of the UK’s first ever DNA database. As vice-president of the British film board for 10 years, I saw the way in which AI simply transformed what we all see on our computer and cinema screens.

I was recently honoured to chair the Westminster Media Forum conference looking at online data regulation. A major theme of the conference was the need to balance—it is a difficult balance—the opportunities provided by these new technologies and the risks of harming the very people this is supposed to help.

The next decade will be like a “Strictly Come Dancing” waltz between democracy and technocracy. There has to be a partnership between government leaders and the tech company executives, with ethics at the centre. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, one in three councils uses this AI-driven data to make welfare decisions, and at least a quarter of police authorities now use it to make predictions and risk assessments.

There are examples of good practice. I was born and raised in a part of the world universally regarded as paradise. It is called Birmingham—just off the M6 motorway by the gasworks.