UK launch national standards for algorithmic transparency

The UK Government has announced one of the world’s first national standards for algorithm transparency

The Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) has launched an algorithmic transparency standard for government departments and public sector bodies.

In its review into bias in algorithmic decision-making, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) recommended that the UK government should place a mandatory transparency obligation on public sector organisations using algorithms to support significant decisions affecting individuals.

Formed in April 2021 as the new strategic centre for Digital, Data and Technology for the UK government, the CDDO has worked closely with the CDEI, and consulted civil society organisations and the public, to design the standard. The standard is organised into two tiers. 

The first includes a short description of the algorithmic tool, including how and why it is being used, while the second includes more detailed information about how the tool works, the dataset/s that have been used to train the model and the level of human oversight. The standard will help teams be meaningfully transparent about the way in which algorithmic tools are being used to support decisions, especially in cases where they might have a legal or economic impact on individuals.

 

Building public trust and confidence in AI

The standard will be piloted by several government departments and public sector bodies in the coming months. Following the piloting phase, CDDO will review the standard based on feedback gathered and seek formal endorsement from the Data Standards Authority in 2022.

Lord Agnew, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, said: “Algorithms can be harnessed by public sector organisations to help them make fairer decisions, improve the efficiency of public services and lower the cost associated with delivery. However, they must be used in decision-making processes in a way that manages risks, upholds the highest standards of transparency and accountability, and builds clear evidence of impact. I’m proud that we have today become one of the first countries in the world to publish a cross-government standard for algorithmic transparency, delivering on commitments made in the National Data Strategy and National AI Strategy, whilst setting an example for organisations across the UK.”

Organisations such as The Alan Turing Institute and Ada Lovelace Institute, and international organisations such as the OECD and Open Government Partnership, have all strongly supported the call for transparency around the use of AI systems. 

Sir Patrick Vallance, National Technology Adviser and Government Chief Scientific Adviser, said: “We need democratic standards and good governance for new technologies, such as AI, that will enhance the way we work and benefit society. The launch of this new standard demonstrates this government’s commitment to building public trust and understanding of the application of these technologies, including exploring increased transparency in public sector use of algorithms.”

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