If data is the new gold, then a new wild west could be emerging as a result of a technology governance gap – which a UK inquiry supported by Jisc is seeking to fill.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Data Analytics and Policy Connect are the latest to respond to this danger and have launched a cross-party inquiry exploring clearer principles and best practice standards for data use.
We have thrown our weight behind the inquiry, which will focus on areas such as education, that stands to reap the huge benefits data and technology may bring.
The Data and Technology Ethics Inquiry will concentrate on the areas of trust, ethics and good governance. This includes public trust, business confidence, and the trade-offs between privacy and progress that are inherent in technology developments and big data.
It will also examine the need for accountability and redress when the first line of trust is broken.
Areas that will be explored by the inquiry
Universities and colleges can learn much about students’ behaviour and use descriptive and predictive analytics to target those with specific needs or who may be about to drop out, significantly improving their life outcomes. However, monitoring student attendance, library use and internet browsing may be viewed as undue surveillance. There could be concern over the legitimacy of university decisions on individual students based on potentially biased algorithms.
New medical treatments and medicines may result from “mining” NHS data, yet personal medical data is highly sensitive. How should we balance the scientific benefits with personal privacy?
Self-driving vehicles would represent a leap forward in technology, with potential social and safety benefits, yet clear transparency, liability and accountability are hard to determine when something goes wrong in a system that uses algorithms and data that derive from multiple sources.
Predictive analytics using databases of crimes and individuals can help prevent organised crime and terrorism, giving police new tools to help distribute and plan resources; however there are ethical questions about how data will be collected and processed, concerns about algorithmic bias and false positives, and where the acceptable limits lie in this space.
These topics will be explored through roundtable discussions and a call for evidence, running from 13 November 2018 until 31 January 2019.
The inquiry is co-chaired by Lee Rowley, Conservative member of parliament for North East Derbyshire, and Darren Jones, Labour member of parliament for Bristol North West.
Luciano Floridi, professor of philosophy and ethics of information at Oxford University and director of the Digital Ethics Lab, will be the academic advisor to the steering committee, on which Jisc will be represented by its chief innovation officer, Dr Phil Richards.
Speaking ahead of the opening round table, held this week, Phil said:
“The technologies at the core of the fourth industrial revolution will also transform the student experience, creating a new "Education 4.0" underpinning future teaching, learning and student wellbeing.
“Jisc’s national learning analytics service and associated code of practice has helped establish a UK consensus there; it is vital we build on that, in relation to appropriate ethical use of wider key data sets and AI, so the UK can operate at the global forefront of Education 4.0, and prepare our learners and citizens for the radically different world that lies ahead.”