AI and public standards: UK report announced

AI and public standards
© iStock/metamorworks

The UK’s Committee on Standards in Public Life intends to conduct a review into the efficacy of existing frameworks and standards governing artificial intelligence.

As technology becomes more widely used as a factor in decision making throughout the public sector, the committee’s report, due for publication in early 2020, aims to analyse the ethical implications of artificial intelligence (AI) deployment in the public sector and gauge whether the high standards of conduct expected from public sector workers are followed in AI-based decision making.

Lord 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 those who act on the public’s behalf. These principles have stood the test of time and are deeply embedded across much of the public sector – from the Civil Service and NHS bodies to local councils and schools. The increasing development and use of data and data-enabled technologies in our public services can potentially bring huge advantages in terms of pace and scale of service delivery, but there are some major ethical and practical challenges about what this means for accountability, objectivity and the other Nolan principles.”

The “seven principles of public life”, also known as the “Nolan principles”, were first drawn up by Lord Nolan, the founding chair of the committee, in 1995. They are designed to apply to all public officials and employees, including elected officials; civil servants; members of the police service; employees of courts and probation services; and local government employees. The seven principles are:

  • Selflessness – acting solely in the public interest;
  • Integrity – avoiding conflicts of interest and nepotism;
  • Objectivity – acting without bias or partiality;
  • Accountability – submitting to appropriate scrutiny to remain accountable to the public;
  • Openness – open and transparent decision making processes;
  • Honesty; and
  • Leadership – holders of public office must exhibit the seven principles in their own behaviour to set an example and promote these values to others.

Lord Evans added: “As the committee celebrates its 25th year as an advisory body conducting broad reviews of key ethical issues, we want to look at what the future holds for public services and help ensure that high standards of conduct continue to be ‘built in’ to new ways of making decisions on the public’s behalf. We are keen to hear from individuals and organisations who are developing policy, systems or safeguards on the use of AI as we gather evidence for this review.”


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