A remarkable time of human promise has been ushered in by the convergence of the ever-expanding availability of big data, the soaring speed and stretch of cloud computing platforms, and the advancement of increasingly sophisticated machine learning algorithms.

Innovations in AI are already leaving a mark on government, by improving the provision of essential social goods and services from healthcare, education, and transportation to food supply, energy, and environmental management. These bounties are likely just the start. 

The prospect that progress in AI will help government to confront some of its most urgent challenges is exciting, but legitimate worries abound. As with any new and rapidly evolving technology, a steep learning curve means that mistakes and miscalculations will be made and that both unanticipated and harmful impacts will occur. 

In order to manage these impacts responsibly and to direct the development of AI systems toward optimal public benefit, The Alan Turing Institute's public policy programme partnered with the Office for Artificial Intelligence and the Government Digital Service to produce guidance on the responsible design and implementation of AI systems in the public sector. 

The guide, Understanding Artificial Intelligence Ethics and Safety, is the most comprehensive guidance on the topic of AI ethics and safety in the public sector to date. It identifies the potential harms caused by AI systems and proposes concrete, operationalisable measures to counteract them. The guide stresses that public sector organisations can anticipate and prevent these potential harms by stewarding a culture of responsible innovation and by putting in place governance processes that support the design and implementation of ethical, fair, and safe AI systems.

The guidance is relevant to everyone involved in the design, production, and deployment of a public sector AI project: from data scientists and data engineers to domain experts, delivery managers and departmental leads. Our aim -- and hope -- in writing the guide is to encourage civil servants interested in conducting AI projects to make considerations of AI ethics and safety a first priority. 

Citation information

Leslie, D. (2019). Understanding artificial intelligence ethics and safety: A guide for the responsible design and implementation of AI systems in the public sector. The Alan Turing Institute. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3240529

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