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Digital Ethics Summit 2020 Day One- Lessons to be learnt from 2020

WiredGov | TechUK | Jan 11, 2021

Digital ethics summit 2020 - Digital Ethics Summit 2020 Day One- Lessons to be learnt from 2020Summary of day one at techUK's Digital Ethics Summit 2020.

On Wednesday 9 December we kicked off techUK’s fourth annual Digital Ethics Summit. The overarching theme for day one of the Summit was lessons to be learnt from 2020. Through a series of keynote speeches, breakout sessions and plenary panels, our speakers from across industry, government, academia and civil society, assessed the role and effectiveness of the digital ethics debate during the critical events that occurred this year.

To kick start the day we were joined by the Minister of State for Media and Data, John Whittingdale. As part of his keynote speech the Minister set out Government’s ambition for the upcoming National Data Strategy and highlighted work that is already underway, starting with the publication of the Government Data Quality Framework. The Minister stressed that underpinning this strategy is public trust and highlighted the need to bring the public along in these important conversations. The Minister also recognised the importance of digital skills and highlighted government’s 13M investment in a bid to boost digital skills. The Minister finished by reaffirming the importance of collaboration between the public and private sector, as well as the need for the UK to remain active in the global debate on digital ethics.

Watch the Minister’s full session recording here.

In her keynote address the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham reflected on the year, highlighting the accelerated adoption of many digital technologies and suggested we’d seen greater collaboration on privacy issues this year than ever before. During her keynote, the Commissioner provided three takeaways to consider as we enter the new year. First, that data ethics will continue to be a lexicon for these shared discussions. Second is a real need to focus on the people that are affected by data decisions and third is considering the role of data ethics boards.  The golden thread throughout each of these three areas is trust. When asked where she’d like to see more focus in 2021, the Commissioner said it comes down to doing more work for kids, including in areas of algorithmic decision-making.

Watch the Information Commissioner’s full session recording here.

Plenary session – Lessons to be learnt from 2020

In the Summit’s  first plenary panel session titled ‘Lessons learnt in 2020’ speakers included Maria Axente, Responsible AI and AI for Good Lead at PwC, Edwina Dunn OBE, Board Member at the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, Stephen Metcalfe MP and Co-Chair for the APPG on AI an Kay Firth-Butterfield Head of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at the World Economic Forum. Building on the Commissioner’s keynote, Maria Axente added that we’re building on a strong foundation when it comes to businesses establishing ethics boards.

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It’s now key that businesses connect their various internal initiatives to see progress. Stephen Metcalfe acknowledged the impact of a current digital divide in society and suggested the need for a refreshed look when it comes to access of digital equipment. Ensuring we’ve got the right digital infrastructure in place, including access to broadband, will be key in 2021. Kay Firth-Butterfield agreed that we need to grow the infrastructure that supports wider adoption of AI to occur. Drawing on her own experiences, Kay highlighted that countries are starting to develop a better understanding of the work that needs to be done when it comes to digital ethics, with many countries learning from other’s experience. Finally, Edwina Dunn OBE, highlighted the work of the CDEI this year and argued the importance of balancing innovation and what we are allowed to do. As we create more data, the more we can do, she says, but does that mean we should do it?

Watch the full plenary session recording here.

Following the plenary session, the Summit broke out into three breakout sessions focusing on three key issues:

Fairness and equality – Data and technology and the fight against systemic discrimination

This breakout session was chaired by Jessica Lennard, Senior Director, Global Data and AI Initiatives, Visa. Panellists include: Ashleigh Ainsley, Co-founder, Colorintech, Brhmie Balaram, Head of AI Research & Ethics, NHSX AI Lab, Renée Cummings, Data Activist in Residence, The School of Data Science, University of Virginia & Community Scholar Columbia University, Dr Kanta Dihal, Senior Research Fellow & Principal Investigator, Global AI Narratives, Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, University of Cambridge and Allyn L. Shaw, President & CTO, Recycle Track Systems and Founding Partner, Deed.Partners.

Whilst discussing some of the greatest challenges we’ve faced this year, Allyn L. Shaw highlighted that current data training sets are still not representative of underrepresented communities, and in addition, many of these communities don’t have access to technology, causing a cascading effect when it comes to fairness and discrimination.

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On the topic of defining fairness, Ashley Ainsley preferred to approach this from an equality perspective. He asked- Who are the people responsible for creating algorithms and making decisions? What opportunities are there to have equitable input into those systems and challenge the decisions made? He stated that people should have the opportunity to get involved and influence from the beginning point of the process.

The public has become more conscious to the impact of AI this year, and Dr Kanta Dihal suggested that in 2020, naïve techno-optimism has become inexcusable. Brhmie Balaram commented that when we think of fairness, we must ask fairness for whom? As fairness will look different for different people. She also added that it’s not just tools but also the culture. What’s happening around the way rules are implemented and the way they’re able to be challenged? Renée Cummings highlighted the need to consider due diligence, duty of care and due process, when it comes to the application of data into any kind of system.

Watch the full session recording here.

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