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Brace yourselves! Blighty is turning to AI for help

AI will improve UK government's digital services, apparently

The UK government is looking at ways to revamp its digital services with the help of machine learning and AI, according to a new report released by the Government Office for Science.

AI is the biggest trend taking over technology, and with the looming presence of autonomous vehicles and robots, governments are beginning to take an interest too.

The report was written by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport, and looks at ways the government could exploit AI to increase productivity and revenues, and improve decision making.

It’s quite wishy-washy however, and the government hasn’t made any concrete promises. It might decide to use machine learning, which could make existing services such as health, social care, or emergency services more efficient.

Or it could make it easier for officials to make better-informed decisions that are “more transparent” through better data analysis. And customer service may be improved by using that data to “help departments better understand the groups they serve, in order to be sure that the right support and opportunity is offered to everyone.”

Understanding how AI makes decisions is quite difficult, however. The government wants AI to identify key topics for policy makers and generate advice through data, but it won’t be able to understand how the system arrived at its decision very clearly, as AI isn't very good at explaining things.

Transparency is a problem that many researchers are trying to solve, so the government won’t be able to rely on it entirely and has vowed all decisions will have a “human in the loop.”

Although the government isn’t quite sure of the effects that AI could have on its digital services, it is willing to experiment by setting up “sandbox areas” for government analysts to test deep learning in a “safe and controlled environment.”

The two biggest issues are data protection and privacy. “Teams making use of artificial learning approaches need to understand how these existing frameworks apply in this context. For example, if deep learning is used to infer personal details that were not intentionally shared, it may not be clear whether consent has been obtained,” the report said.

The UK government doesn’t have a great reputation for managing its IT and data services, or having a clear direction for AI either. The “right form of governance for artificial intelligence, and indeed for the use of digital data more widely, is not self-evident,” it admitted.

“But the important task is to set out what needs to be done before considering how it is to be achieved,” the report said. ®

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